Under the Implicit Prosody Hypothesis, readers generate prosodic structures during silent reading that can direct their real-time interpretations of text (Fodor, 2002). Evidence for the realization of metric structure during silent reading is demonstrated by longer reading times for metrically unpredictable words than predictable ones (Breen & Clifton, 2011), but the cognitive processes underlying metric structure processing in silent reading are unclear.
The current study was designed to investigate whether metric unpredictability in silent reading is processed similarly to metric unpredictability in listening to speech and music.
We analyzed ERPs from nineteen participants (18 female; 1 nonbinary) who silently read 160 rhyming couplets. We manipulated the lexical stress pattern (strong-weak, weak-strong) and metrical predictability (predictable, unpredictable) of the target word (present in [1-4]) in a 2x2 design. In this way, the first syllable in the target word appeared as:  a strong syllable aligned with a strong beat (predictable);  a strong syllable aligned with a weak beat (unpredictable);  a weak syllable aligned with a weak beat (predictable);  a weak syllable aligned with a weak beat (unpredictable). An additional 160 metrically predictable rhyming couplets served as fillers. Each couplet was presented in center-embedded 1-to-4-word segments for 700 ms each; the rhyme prime (peasant in [1,4]) was presented for 1000ms. The target word was presented alone for 1000 ms.
1. Trochaic; Predictable:
There once was a penniless peasant // Who couldn’t afford a nice PREsent
2. Trochaic; Unpredictable:
There once was a clever young gent // Who gave to his girl a *PREsent
3. Iambic; Predictable:
There once was a clever young gent // Who had a nice talk to preSENT
4. Iambic; Unpredictable:
There once was a penniless peasant // Who went to his master to *preSENT
Metrically unpredictable trochaic targets (*PREsent in ) elicited a negativity between 325 400ms over left and medial-frontocentral scalp regions relative to predictable trochaic targets (PREsent in ). Conversely, there was no difference between iambic targets on strong or weak beats.
The larger negativity for the occurrence of a strong syllable on a predicted weak beat is consistent with results from overt listening (Bohn, et al., 2003), demonstrating that consistent metric structure creates temporal expectancies even during silent reading. Moreover, this finding is consistent with music perception results demonstrating larger negativities to metrically unexpected notes (Ladinig, et al., 2009), demonstrating cognitive overlap between hierarchical timing processes in speech and music.
Fodor, J. D. (2002). Prosodic disambiguation in silent reading. NELS, 1(32), 113-132.
Breen, M., & Clifton Jr, C. (2011). Stress matters: Effects of anticipated lexical stress on silent reading. Journal of memory and language, 64(2), 153-170.
Bohn, K., Knaus, J., Wiese, R., & Domahs, U. (2013). The influence of rhythmic (ir) regularities on speech processing: evidence from an ERP study on German phrases. Neuropsychologia, 51(4), 760-771.
Ladinig, O., Honing, H., Hááden, G., & Winkler, I. (2009). Probing attentive and preattentive emergent meter in adult listeners without extensive music training. Music Perception: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 26(4), 377-386.