Relative distance and gaze in the use of entity-referring spatial demonstratives: An event-related potential study

James Stevens, Yang Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


How linguistic expressions are contextually constrained is of vital importance to our understanding of language as a formal representational system and a vehicle of social communication. This study collected behavioral and event-related potential (ERP) data to investigate neural processing of two entity-referring spatial demonstrative expressions, this one and that one, in different contexts involving the speaker, the hearer and the referred-to object. Stimulus presentation varied distance and gaze conditions with either semantically congruent or incongruent audiovisual pairings. Behavioral responses showed that distance determined the demonstrative form only in joint gaze conditions. The ERP data for the joint gaze conditions further indicated significant congruent vs. incongruent differences in the post-stimulus window of 525-725 ms for the hearer-associated spatial context. Standardized Low Resolution Brain Electromagnetic Tomography (sLORETA) showed left temporal and bilateral parietal activations for the effect. The results provide the first neural evidence that the use of spatial demonstratives in English is obligatorily influenced by two factors: (1) shared gaze of speaker and hearer, and (2) the relative distance of the object to the speaker and hearer. These findings have important implications for cognitive-linguistic theories and studies on language development and social discourse.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)31-45
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Neurolinguistics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by University of Minnesota start-up fund, an Autism Initiative Project Award from the Department of Pediatrics, and two Brain Imaging Research Awards from the Office of the Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Programs, College of Liberal Arts. Additional funding for subject fees was provided by the UMN Linguistics Program . We gratefully acknowledge invaluable assistance from Tess Koerner, Sharon Miller and Dr. Edward Carney.


  • Deixis
  • Gaze
  • Global field power
  • N400
  • N600
  • Standardized low-resolution brain electromagnetic tomography


Dive into the research topics of 'Relative distance and gaze in the use of entity-referring spatial demonstratives: An event-related potential study'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this