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Poster C3, Thursday, November 9, 10:00 – 11:15 am, Harborview and Loch Raven Ballrooms

Both syntactic and prosodic cues guide sentence processing in the left inferior frontal gyrus

Constantijn L van der Burght1, Tomás Goucha1, Angela D Friederici1, Jens Kreitewolf1,2, Gesa Hartwigsen1;1Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, 2University of Lübeck

In everyday conversation, various types of information need to be integrated. Both word forms and speech melody (prosody) establish which words belong together, creating syntactic boundaries between different parts of a sentence. For example, words can be grouped by syntactic cues (a particular word form) or by prosodic boundaries (a sentence pause and pitch modulation). The neural correlate of how these different types of information contribute to sentence comprehension is yet to be specified. We used fMRI to address this issue, hypothesizing that if a prosodic boundary is processed as a syntactic boundary rather than only as a prosodic event this would lead to left hemispheric activation, possibly in the inferior frontal gyrus (IFG). In our experiment, we measured the processing of different types of spoken utterances in healthy, young participants. In each stimulus condition, the verb-argument structure was disambiguated by either case marking (a syntactic cue), an intonational phrase boundary (IPB; a prosodic cue), or a combination of these. Subsequently, participants made a decision about which role a particular agent fulfilled in the action in the sentence, basing their response either on the syntax or the prosody. Our results show that the contribution of the left IFG to speech processing depends on the information that is available and required for sentence comprehension. We found that task-related activity in the left IFG was increased when the syntactic boundary was marked by only one cue (either syntactic or prosodic), as contrasted to sentences in which both syntactic and prosodic elements were marking the boundary. In accordance to the literature, a strong contribution of the left IFG was revealed when the syntactic cue was decisive for sentence meaning. As hypothesized, when a sentence boundary was indicated by a prosodic boundary only, the main activation was also found in the left IFG, as opposed to the right hemispheric activity commonly found for purely prosodic events. Our results suggest an involvement of the left IFG in function of the processing demands during sentence comprehension, regardless of whether a listener relies on syntactic or prosodic information.

Topic Area: Grammar: Syntax

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