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Subcortical contributions to language: The fruit below the rind

Poster D68 in Poster Session D with Social Hour, Friday, October 7, 5:30 - 7:15 pm EDT, Millennium Hall

Michael T. Ullman1, Tanya M. Evans2, Mariann Kiss3, Leela Shah2, Hal Blumenfeld4, Karolina Janacsek5; 1Georgetown University, Washington DC, United States, 2University of Virginia, Charlottesville VA, United States, 3ELTE Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, Hungary, 4Yale School of Medicine, New Haven CT, United States, 5University of Greenwich, London, United Kingdom

The study of the neurobiology of language has highlighted cerebral cortex while often overlooking subcortical structures. This proclivity for cortex (‘rind’ or ‘bark’ in Latin) is found in both basic and translational research on language as well as other higher cognitive domains such as reading, music, and math. We suggest that, for both anatomical and evolutionary reasons, multiple subcortical structures likely play substantial roles in language and other higher domains. To examine the relevant evidence thus far, we performed a comprehensive review of the literature. The review reveals that numerous subcortical structures throughout the brain, from the lower brainstem through the upper brainstem (midbrain), diencephalon, and telencephalon, contribute to language and other domains—even structures such as the pons, red nucleus, and mammillary bodies, let alone multiple substructures in the thalamus and basal ganglia. We argue that the findings are overall both real and important. Next, based on this and other evidence, we propose a new theoretical framework, the many-to-many (MaMa) dynamic network model of (sub)cortical contributions: each (sub)cortical structure supports multiple functions in language and other domains via basic computations (which operate analogously across domains); each function depends on multiple structures that can play both complementary and redundant roles; and these roles vary dynamically according to factors such as time (e.g., during different stages of learning or processing), context, and population (e.g., across individuals and groups). Finally, we lay out how the structure-function map revealed by our review can be expanded: we suggest that new subcortical roles can be identified by leveraging anatomical and evolutionary principles, and we lay out specific methods that can be employed to reveal subcortical involvement. Altogether, this work (see Janacsek, Evans, Kiss, Shah, Blumenfeld & Ullman, 2022, Annual Review of Neuroscience) aims to advance basic and translational neurocognitive research on language and other aspects of cognition by highlighting subcortical contributions and facilitating their future investigation.

Topic Areas: Meaning: Lexical Semantics, Syntax

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