Scientific article
Open access

Dissociating neural subsystems for grammar by contrasting word order and inflection

Published inProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 107, no. 16, p. 7539-7544
Publication date2010

An important question in understanding language processing is whether there are distinct neural mechanisms for processing specific types of grammatical structure, such as syntax versus morphology, and, if so, what the basis of the specialization might be. However, this question is difficult to study: A given language typically conveys its grammatical information in one way (e.g., English marks "who did what to whom" using word order, and German uses inflectional morphology). American Sign Language permits either device, enabling a direct within-language comparison. During functional (f)MRI, native signers viewed sentences that used only word order and sentences that included inflectional morphology. The two sentence types activated an overlapping network of brain regions, but with differential patterns. Word order sentences activated left-lateralized areas involved in working memory and lexical access, including the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the inferior frontal gyrus, the inferior parietal lobe, and the middle temporal gyrus. In contrast, inflectional morphology sentences activated areas involved in building and analyzing combinatorial structure, including bilateral inferior frontal and anterior temporal regions as well as the basal ganglia and medial temporal/limbic areas. These findings suggest that for a given linguistic function, neural recruitment may depend upon on the cognitive resources required to process specific types of linguistic cues.

Affiliation Not a UNIGE publication
Citation (ISO format)
NEWMAN, Aaron J. et al. Dissociating neural subsystems for grammar by contrasting word order and inflection. In: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2010, vol. 107, n° 16, p. 7539–7544. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1003174107
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Article (Published version)
ISSN of the journal0027-8424

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