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PhD defence

Tapping into Semantic Recovery

  • B.J. Ruijgrok
Thursday 31 May 2018
Academy Building
Rapenburg 73
2311 GJ Leiden

Tapping into semantic recovery: An event-related potential study on the processing of Gapping and Stripping

Ellipsis is an omnipresent phenomenon in the world's languages and an adequate tool to examine processing of meaning. To interpret (1) a process of semantic recovery is required when we process the right conjunct.

(1) John likes bananas, and Sally pears.

In (1) the message of the right conjunct is that Sally *likes* pears; she did not - for example - steal them. Hence, somehow we can retrieve a missing element and integrate it with the remaining elements. The question is what neural correlates constitute this resolution process.

This dissertation investigates the processing of ellipsis, in particular the ellipsis type Gapping and its sub-type Stripping. After a thorough review of the theoretical and experimental background on Gapping (and Stripping), five electrophysiological studies are reported -- including one replication study. Using the method of event-related (brain) potentials, questions are tackled regarding the nature of syntactic, semantic and prosodic processes and how they interplay.

Two mechanisms described in the experimental literature -- "Copy alpha" and "cue-based retrieval" -- are drawn upon to connect theory to processing. It is true that a mapping between existing theoretical insights and actual processing may be problematic, however, commensurate with theoretical insights, all experimental findings underscore the multidimensional nature of Gapping and Stripping. It is further argued that ellipsis resolution is sustained by a two-stage mechanism that is based on retrieval and integration processes.

Eventually, understanding how language is processed in the brain will help improve treatment strategies for people who lost language skills after brain damage.


  • Prof. N.O. Schiller
  • Prof. L.L.S.Cheng


PhD defences are free; you do not have to register.

PhD dissertations

PhD dissertations by Leiden PhD students are available digitally after the defence through the Leiden Repository, that offers free access to these PhD dissertations. Please note that in some cases a dissertation may be under embargo temporarily and access to its full-text version will only be granted later.

Press contact

Maarten Muns, Scientific Communications Adviser, Leiden University
+31 71 527 3282

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