An important question in the study of language is to what degree semantic and syntactic processes are automatic or controlled. This study employed an attentional blink (AB) paradigm to manipulate awareness in the processing of target words in order to assess automaticity in semantic and syntactic processing. In the semantic block, targets occurring both within and outside the AB period elicited an N400. However, N400 amplitude was significantly reduced during the AB period, and missed targets did not elicit an N400. In the syntactic block, ERPs to targets occurring outside the AB period revealed a late negative syntactic incongruency effect, whereas ERPs to targets occurring within the AB period showed no effect of incongruency. The semantic results support the argument that the N400 primarily indexes a controlled, postlexical process. Syntactic findings suggest that the ERP response to some syntactic violations depends on awareness and availability of attentional resources.

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