The role of word frequency and morpho-orthography in agreement processing

Laurel Brehm, Erika Hussey, Kiel Christianson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Agreement attraction in comprehension (when an ungrammatical verb is read quickly if preceded by a feature-matching local noun) is well described by a cue-based retrieval framework. This suggests a role for lexical retrieval in attraction. To examine this, we manipulated two probabilistic factors known to affect lexical retrieval: local noun word frequency and morpho-orthography (agreement morphology realised with or without –s endings) in a self-paced reading study. Noun number and word frequency affected noun and verb region reading times, with higher-frequency words not eliciting attraction. Morpho-orthography impacted verb processing but not attraction: atypical plurals led to slower verb reading times regardless of verb number. Exploratory individual difference analyses further underscore the importance of lexical retrieval dynamics in sentence processing. This provides evidence that agreement operates via a cue-based retrieval mechanism over lexical representations that vary in their strength and association to number features.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)58-77
Number of pages20
JournalLanguage, Cognition and Neuroscience
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2 2020


  • Sentence processing
  • individual differences
  • lexical retrieval
  • number agreement
  • vocabulary

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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