Neurophysiological correlates of automatic integration of voice and gender information during grammatical processing.
During verbal communication, interlocutors rely on both linguistic (e.g., words, syntax) and extralinguistic (e.g., voice quality) information. The neural mechanisms of extralinguistic information processing are particularly poorly understood. To address this, we used EEG and recorded eventrelated brain potentials while participants listened to Russian pronoun–verb phrases presented in either male or female voice. Crucially, we manipulated congruency between the grammatical gender signaled by the verbs’ ending and the speakers’ apparent gender. To focus on putative automatic integration of extralinguistic information into syntactic processing and avoid confounds arising from secondary top-down processes, we used passive non-attend auditory presentation with visual distraction and no stimulus-related task. Most expressed neural responses were found at both early (150 ms, ELAN-like) and late (400 ms, N400-like) phrase processing stages. Crucially, both of these brain responses exhibited sensitivity to extralinguistic information and were signifcantly enhanced for phrases whose voice and grammatical gender were incongruent, similar to what is known for ERPs efects related to overt grammatical violations. Our data suggest a high degree of automaticity in processing extralinguistic information during spoken language comprehension which indicates existence of a rapid automatic syntactic integration mechanism sensitive to both linguistic and extralinguistic information.