Urbach, T. P., DeLong, K. A., & Kutas, M. (2015). Quantifiers are incrementally interpreted in context, more than less. Journal of Memory and Language, 83, 79-96.


Language interpretation is often assumed to be incremental. However, our studies of quantifier expressions in isolated sentences found N400 event-related brain potential (ERP) evidence for partial but not full immediate quantifier interpretation (Urbach & Kutas, 2010). Here we tested similar quantifier expressions in pragmatically supporting discourse contexts (Alex was an unusual toddler. Most/Few kids prefer sweets/vegetables …) while participants made plausibility judgments (Experiment 1) or read for comprehension (Experiment 2). Control Experiments 3A (plausibility) and 3B (comprehension) removed the discourse contexts. Quantifiers always modulated typical and/or atypical word N400 amplitudes. However, the real-time N400 effects only in Experiment 2 mirrored offline quantifier and typicality crossover interaction effects for plausibility ratings and cloze probabilities. We conclude that quantifier expressions can be interpreted fully and immediately, though pragmatic and task variables appear to impact the speed and/or depth of quantifier interpretation.


Marta Kutas

Katherine Delong

Thomas Urbach


Cognitive Electrophysiology Lab