Over the past few weeks my advisors and I have been planning out what my first year project is going to be. We’ve decided it would be easier for me to jump into a straight-up psycholinguistics study than deal with designing a “comic” based study right away. So, my project is going to be looking at ERPs and semantic coercion.
What, you ask, are ERPs? ERP stands for “Event Related Potential” and its a measurement of the electrical activity of the human brain. How it works, is the experimenter puts a cap on people that measures their EEG, or electroencephalogram, which is the ongoing electrical activity in the brain. This electrical activity is all abuzz in your noggin’ all the time. So, while doing certain tasks, this cap measures these brainwaves, which are then time-locked to those events that coincide with the tasks. The waveforms are then averaged out to reduce “noise,” resulting (hopefully) in a waveform that can be informative about whatever task was performed.
Or, at least, that’s as far as I know so far. I technically start learning how to run subjects in our lab on Monday.
And so, I’m sure you’re wondering, what is “semantic coercion”? Glad you asked… Semantic Coercion is a linguistic phenomena that occurs when certain lexical items are paired up to create a meaning that is not explicit in the sentence. For example:
Tymmi began a comic.
In this sentence, you understand that the action is beginning to read or write a comic, yet nothing in the sentence is provided that tells you that. The information is illicited out of the combination of the words. This effect is not found if that information is provided:
Alexander finished his coffee (with coercion)
Alexander finished drinking his coffee (without coercsion)
So, my question for the next year will be… is anything special going on in the brain during sentences like these?
Which brings us to a final question you might ask… does this have anything to do with comics? And the answer to that, I’m afraid, lies in a future post sometime soon…