In an ERP experiment, we examined whether listeners, when making sense of spoken utterances, take into account the meaning of spurious words that are embedded in longer words, either at their onsets (e.g., pie in pirate) or at their offsets (e.g., pain in champagne). In the experiment, Dutch listeners heard Dutch words with initial or final embeddings presented in a sentence context that did or did not support the meaning of the embedded word, while equally supporting the longer carrier word. The N400 at the carrier words was modulated by the semantic fit of the embedded words, indicating that listeners briefly relate the meaning of initial- and final-embedded words to the sentential context, even though these words were not intended by the speaker. These findings help us understand the dynamics of initial sense-making and its link to lexical activation. In addition, they shed new light on the role of lexical competition and the debate concerning the lexical activation of final-embedded words.

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