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The morphosyntactic decomposition of Spanish verb-noun compounds: an ERP study

María Mercedes Güemes

  • Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires,
  • Argentina
  • María Mercedes Güemes ¹
  • , Joaquín Menéndez ²
  • , Carolina Gattei ³
  • , Alberto Iorio ²
  • , Alejandro Wainselboim ⁴
  • 1 Institute of Philology and Hispanic Literature “Dr. Amado Alonso”- University of Buenos Aires
  • 2 Faculty of Psychology, University of Buenos Aires, Argentina/ Behavioral Biology Laboratory – Institute of Biological and Experimental Medicine
  • 3 IFIBA - Physics Institute of Buenos Aires, Argentina Neuroscience Laboratory - Torcuato di Tella University, Argentina Pontifical Catholic University of Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • 4 Human, Social and Environmental Research Institute - CONICET-Mendoza, Ciudad de Mendoza, Argentina

The aim of this study is to investigate if Spanish verb-noun compounds, such as lavaplatos, are processed as unitary lexical units, or combinatorily through their constituents. Previous work has shown the importance of verb argument structure in the processing of these words (Güemes et al. 2019). In the present work, compounds were classified in two groups according to their semantic transparency: transparent or Agentives (AG), in which the referent takes the role of agent, and more opaque or Metaphorical (MET), which involve methaphorical patterns to construct their meaning. A lexical decision task was conducted with EEG recordings; the paradigm included two visual presentation modes: as whole words (Standard presentation), or separated into their constituents (Split presentation). Behavioral results showed that in both conditions AG compounds were responded significantly better and faster than MET words. An N400 effect was found for both AG and MET, but was enhanced for MET words in both presentation modes. This finding supports the view that MET compounds are decomposed into constituents. Therefore, semantic opacity of MET compounds does not seem to lead to differences in decomposition procedures: while in AG compounds the meaning of both constituents can be easily integrated to form compound meaning; in MET words, this procedure must be inhibited, and compound meaning accessed through the metaphoric relation that links both constituents.