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Poster C4, Thursday, November 9, 10:00 – 11:15 am, Harborview and Loch Raven Ballrooms

Beyond Speech Entrainment: Delta-Band Oscillations Align Neural Excitability with High-Level Linguistic Information

Lars Meyer1, Matthias Gumbert1,2;1Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Leipzig, Germany, 2University of Trento, Trento, Italy

Electrophysiological synchronization of neural oscillations with the paces of phonemes and syllables is an established mechanism of speech perception. Recently, oscillatory cycles were also found to align with syntactic phrases, in spite of lacking phonetic cues. The functional purpose of electrophysiological alignment with syntactic phrases for information transmission via language is entirely unclear. We hypothesized here that the alignment between oscillatory cycles and syntactic phrases results in an implicit alignment between the resulting gradient in oscillatory phase—mirroring neural excitability—and syntactic information within syntactic phrases. In our auditory electroencephalography study, we uniformly distributed morpho-syntactic violations across syntactic phrases of natural sentence stimuli, such that violations would occur at points differing in syntactic informativeness (i.e., syntactic surprisal) as quantified by probabilistic computational modeling. Subjects were required to detect the violations via button press. In support of our hypothesis, behavioral and electrophysiological responses (i.e., reaction times and amplitudes of the left anterior negativity, respectively) to morpho-syntactic violations increased with decreasing syntactic informativeness along syntactic phrases—in correlation with a progression of delta-band oscillatory phase, which had synchronized to the syntactic phrases of the stimuli. Our findings indicate that electrophysiological alignment between neural delta-band oscillations and syntactic phrases could be a functional mechanism that optimizes the extraction of syntactic information from within syntactic phrases, facilitating language comprehension.

Topic Area: Grammar: Syntax

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