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Title: N400 evidence that the early stages of lexical access ignore knowledge about phonological alternations
Authors: Politzer-Ahles, S 
Lin, J 
Pan, L 
Lee, KK 
Issue Date: 2021
Source: Language and speech, 2021, OnlineFirst,
Abstract: Hearing a word that was already expected often facilitates comprehension, attenuating the amplitude of the N400 event-related brain potential component. On the other hand, hearing a word that was not expected elicits a larger N400. In the present study, we examined whether the N400 would be attenuated when a person hears something that is not exactly what they expected but is a viable alternative pronunciation of the morpheme they expected. This was done using Mandarin syllables, some of which can be pronounced with different lexical tones depending on the context. In two large-sample experiments (total n = 160) testing syllables in isolation and in phonologically viable contexts, we found little evidence that hearing an alternative pronunciation of the expected word attenuates the N400. These results suggest that comprehenders do not take advantage of their knowledge about systematic phonological alternations during the early stages of prediction or discrimination.
Keywords: Lexical activation
Mandarin tone
Phonological alternation
Tone sandhi
Publisher: Sage Publications Ltd.
Journal: Language and speech 
ISSN: 0023-8309
EISSN: 1756-6053
DOI: 10.1177/00238309211020026
Rights: © The Author(s) 2021
This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 License ( which permits non-commercial use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access pages (
The following publication Politzer-Ahles, S., Lin, J., Pan, L., & Lee, K. K. (2021). N400 Evidence That the Early Stages of Lexical Access Ignore Knowledge About Phonological Alternations. Language and Speech, 00238309211020026 is available at
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