Processing Negative Polarity Items in Korean: Implications from an ERP Study

Myung-Kwan Park1, Eunjeong Oh2, Wonil Chung1,
Author Information & Copyright
1Dongguk University
2Sangmyung University
Corresponding Author: Research Professor Department of English Linguistics and Interpretation & Translation Dongguk University 30 Pildong-ro, Jung-gu, Seoul 04620, Korea, E-mail:

ⓒ Copyright 2020 Language Education Institute, Seoul National University. This is an Open-Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License ( which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Received: Jun 24, 2020 ; Revised: Aug 07, 2020 ; Accepted: Aug 11, 2020

Published Online: Aug 31, 2020


The present study used event-related potentials (ERPs) to examine the neural correlates supporting the processing of two negative polarity items (NPI) (nominal amwu+N+to “any+N+even” and adverbial te isang “any more/longer”) in Korean. Participants read sentences phrase by phrase while their brain activities during the processing of the NPIs and their licensors were being recorded. The results revealed that the NPI licensors in such contexts as positive or interrogative clauses not containing a proper licensor elicited a larger N400 component, possibly reflecting the cost of semantic or pragmatic integration. By contrast, sentences with the adverbial NPI te isang in the negative implicature- inducing “before” clause are not significantly different in ERP responses from those in the negative clause, thus evoking no ERP component. The present findings not only demonstrate semantic and pragmatic effects in neural signatures evoked by varied NPI-licensor relations, but also point to the multi- dimensionality of NPI processing/licensing recruiting semantic/pragmatic integration as well as syntactic dependency formation.

Keywords: NPI; amwu+N+to; te isang; licensor-licensee relation; ERP; N400; semantic integration



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