The syntactic and semantic processing of mass and count nouns: An ERP study

Valentina Chiarelli, Radouane El Yagoubi, Sara Mondini, Patrizia Bisiacchi, Carlo Semenza

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The present study addressed the question of whether count and mass nouns are differentially processed in the brain. In two different ERP (Event-Related Potentials) tasks we explored the semantic and syntactic levels of such distinction. Mass and count nouns typically differ in concreteness, hence the effect of this important variable was factorially examined in each task. Thus the stimuli presented were: count concrete, count abstract, mass concrete or mass abstract. The first experiment (concrete/abstract semantic judgment task) involved the interaction between the N400 concreteness effect and the Mass/Count condition, revealing a substantial effect between mass and count nouns at the semantic level. The second experiment (sentence syntactic violation task) showed a Mass/Count distinction on left anterior negativity (LAN) and on P600 components, confirming the difference at the syntactic level. This study suggests that the brain differentiates between count and mass nouns not only at the syntactic level but also at the semantic level. Implications for our understanding of the brain mechanisms underlying the Mass/Count distinction are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere25885
JournalPLoS One
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Oct 5 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Medicine(all)


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