Left-Edge Boundary Tones and Verb Assertiveness

The second study (Roll, Horne, and Lindgren, 2009) examined the effects of main clause verb pragmatics and left-edge boundary tones (Roll, 2004, 2006, In press) on the syntactic processing of Swedish embedded main clauses, such as Jag sa att Gunnar kommer inte ‘(lit.) I said that Gunnar comes not’, where the verb kommer ‘comes’ preceding the sentence adverb inte ‘not’ shows that the embedded clause is a main clause rather than a subordinate clause. Like ordinary main clauses, embedded main clauses are characterized by a left-edge boundary tone associated with the first prosodic word. Embedded main clauses also express assertions, making them incompatible with ‘nonassertive’ main clause verbs like hoppas ‘hope’, which question the truth of the embedded clause. We tested whether ‘assertive’ main clause verbs like säger ‘says’, which do not question the truth of the embedded clause, and the presence of left-edge boundary tones would facilitate the syntactic processing of embedded main clauses.


Without a left-edge boundary tone, the acceptance rate of the embedded main clauses decreased significantly, and a biphasic positive effect with an early peak (P345) and a late peak (P600) showed syntactic reprocessing. A larger continuous positive effect (P600) was obtained when assertive main clause verbs were changed to nonassertive verbs. Increased positivity was also seen at the left-edge boundary tone when it mismatched a preceding nonassertive verb. We concluded that left-edge boundary tones are used in addition to verb pragmatics to guide the syntactic processing of embedded clauses in Swedish, and that pragmatic and prosodic information is integrated immediately.


  • Roll, Mikael., Horne, Merle., and Lindgren, Magnus. Left-edge boundary tone and main clause verb effects on syntactic processing in embedded clauses – An ERP study. Journal of Neurolinguistics, 22(1), 55-73.
  • Roll, Mikael. In press. The role of a left-edge tone in speech processing. In Kai Alter, Merle Horne, Magnus Lindgren, Mikael Roll, Janne von Koss Torkildsen, Papers from Brain Talk. The 1st Birgit Rausing Language Program Conference in Linguistics. Lund University.
  • Roll, Mikael 2006. Prosodic cues to the syntactic structure of subordinate clauses in Swedish. In Gösta Bruce and Merle Horne (eds.), Nordic Prosody: Proceedings of the IX:th conference, Lund 2004. Peter Lang, 195-204.
  • Roll, Mikael. 2004. Prosodic cues to the syntactic structure of subordinate clauses in Swedish. MA thesis. Lund University.
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