Real-time production of unergative and unaccusative sentences in normal and agrammatic speakers: An eyetracking study

Jiyeon Lee*, Cynthia K. Thompson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Background: Speakers with agrammatic aphasia have greater difficulty producing unaccusative (float) compared to unergative (bark) verbs (Kegl, 1995; Lee & Thompson, 2004; Thompson, 2003), putatively because the former involve movement of the theme to the subject position from the post-verbal position, and are therefore more complex than the latter (Burzio, 1986; Perlmutter, 1978). However, it is unclear if and how sentence production processes are affected by the linguistic distinction between these two types of verbs in normal and impaired speakers. Aims: This study examined real-time production of sentences with unergative (the black dog is barking) vs unaccusative (the black tube is floating) verbs in healthy young speakers and individuals with agrammatic aphasia, using eyetracking. Methods & Procedures: Participants' eye movements and speech were recorded while they produced a sentence using computer displayed written stimuli (e.g., black, dog, is barking). Outcomes & Results: Both groups of speakers produced numerically fewer unaccusative sentences than unergative sentences. However, the eye movement data revealed significant differences in fixations between the adjective (black) vs the noun (tube) when producing unaccusatives, but not when producing unergatives for both groups. Interestingly, whereas healthy speakers showed this difference during speech, speakers with agrammatism showed this difference prior to speech onset. Conclusions: These findings suggest that the human sentence production system differentially processes unaccusatives vs unergatives. This distinction is preserved in individuals with agrammatism; however, the time course of sentence planning appears to differ from healthy speakers (Lee & Thompson, 2010).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)813-825
Number of pages13
Issue number6-7
StatePublished - Jun 2011


  • Agrammatism
  • Eyetracking
  • Sentence production
  • Unaccusative verbs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Otorhinolaryngology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • LPN and LVN


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