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Poster A15, Wednesday, November 8, 10:30 – 11:45 am, Harborview and Loch Raven Ballrooms

Neural Correlates Modulated by the Word Category Information During Complicated Hierarchical Syntactic Structure Processing: An fMRI study

Luyao Chen1, Yongben Fu1, Huntae Kang1, Liping Feng1;1Beijing Normal University

The essence of human language faculty has been recently assumed to be the competence of labeling which gives two merged syntactic objects an syntactic identity, e.g. ‘the apple’ is labeled as a DP after the merge of ‘the’ (D) and ‘apple’ (N). And theoretically, the labeling competence based on the word category information is crucial to generate hierarchical syntactic structures. Thus we assumed that the word category information might be important for hierarchical syntactic structure processing, and the neural correlates modulated by it might be essential for human language processing. Hence, an fMRI experiment was conducted to investigate the neural mechanisms modulated by word category information during hierarchical syntactic structure processing. we adopted the artificial grammar learning paradigm adapted from Opitz & Friederici (2007), and created a Chinese-like artificial language containing 4 nouns (N), 9 verbs (V1/2/3) with 3 in every subcategory, 2 relativizers (R1/2) and 1 adverb/ verb modifier (M) on the basis of the Chinese phonetic alphabet. The center-embedding structure, e.g. [N V1/2 [[V3 N] R1/2] N], was used avoiding the mere transition probability problem of processing, and it was considered to contain the syntactic long-dependencies (e.g. between V1/2 and the last N, and between V1/2 and R1/2) that may better reflect the function of the word category information. The dependencies between V1/2 and R1/2 were set to be principal in the present study. 30 Korean native speakers were randomly separated into 2 groups. One group acquired the word category information before the artificial language learning, and the other did not. The learning session consists of 6 blocks with one part of training and the other testing in every block. Participants needed to extract the syntactic rules during training and to judge the syntactic correctness in testing. The participants without acquiring the word category information before should take the extra artificial word categorization test. The scanning session only required the participants to make the syntactic judgment. The behavioral results showed that the participants with word category information could successfully acquired the principal syntactic rules more accurately and quickly, but the other group failed in both the rule acquisition and the word categorization. FMRI results revealed that processing such the complicated hierarchical syntactic structures with the word category information could evoke the stronger activation of the Broca’s area including BA 44 and BA 45, the superior temporal gyrus (STG) and the (superior and inferior) parietal lobe. Further correlation analysis of the functional connectivity strength between the related ROIs indicated that the word category information might result in a much closer collaboration between the sub-parts of the Broca’s area, and the group without the word category information might resort to more brain areas for processing the syntactic structure. Our present experiment has provided the direct evidence to the importance of the word category information in language learning and processing, and has made the first try to explore the labeling hypothesis in the field of neurolinguistics.

Topic Area: Grammar: Syntax

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