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Lexical and syntactic representations in closely related languages: Evidence from Cantonese–Mandarin bilinguals

Bilinguals appear to have shared syntactic representations for similar constructions between languages but retain distinct representations for noncognate translation-equivalents (Schoonbaert, Hartsuiker, & Pickering, 2007). We inquire whether bilinguals have more integrated representations of cognate translation-equivalents. To investigate this, we report two structural priming experiments in which participants heard dative sentences in Mandarin or Cantonese and described pictures using Mandarin (Experiment 1) or Cantonese (Experiment 2). We found that cognate verbs between the prime and the target led to a smaller boost than same verbs. This difference in priming could not be attributed to more phonological overlap between same verbs (i.e., identical) than between cognate verbs (i.e., similar but not identical). These results suggest that cognate verbs have separate rather than shared lemma representations across languages, even though their associated syntactic information appears to be collectively represented. Furthermore, we found an advantage for within-language priming over between-language priming. We interpreted this advantage as the result of a language node passing activation to all the lemmas linked to it. Implications for bilingual lexical and syntactic representation and processing are discussed.

from the Journal of Memory and Language

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A person is not a number: Discourse involvement in subject-verb agreement computation

Agreement is a very important mechanism for language processing. Mainstream psycholinguistic research on subject-verb agreement processing has emphasized the purely formal and encapsulated nature of this phenomenon, positing an equivalent access to person and number features. However, person and number are intrinsically different, because person conveys extra-syntactic information concerning the participants in the speech act. To test the person-number dissociation hypothesis we investigated the neural correlates of subject-verb agreement in Spanish, using person and number violations. While number agreement violations produced a left-anterior negativity followed by a P600 with a posterior distribution, the negativity elicited by person anomalies had a centro-posterior maximum and was followed by a P600 effect that was frontally distributed in the early phase and posteriorly distributed in the late phase. These data reveal that the parser is differentially sensitive to the two features and that it deals with the two anomalies by adopting different strategies, due to the different levels of analysis affected by the person and number violations.

from Brain Research

Shadows of music–language interaction on low frequency brain oscillatory patterns

Electrophysiological studies investigating similarities between music and language perception have relied exclusively on the signal averaging technique, which does not adequately represent oscillatory aspects of electrical brain activity that are relevant for higher cognition. The current study investigated the patterns of brain oscillations during simultaneous processing of music and language using visually presented sentences and auditorily presented chord sequences. Music-syntactically regular or irregular chord functions were presented in sync with syntactically or semantically correct or incorrect words. Irregular chord functions (presented simultaneously with a syntactically correct word) produced an early (150–250 ms) spectral power decrease over anterior frontal regions in the theta band (5–7 Hz) and a late (350–700 ms) power increase in both the delta and the theta band (2–7 Hz) over parietal regions. Syntactically incorrect words (presented simultaneously with a regular chord) elicited a similar late power increase in delta–theta band over parietal sites, but no early effect. Interestingly, the late effect was significantly diminished when the language-syntactic and music-syntactic irregularities occurred at the same time. Further, the presence of a semantic violation occurring simultaneously with regular chords produced a significant increase in later delta–theta power at posterior regions; this effect was marginally decreased when the identical semantic violation occurred simultaneously with a music syntactical violation. Altogether, these results show that low frequency oscillatory networks get activated during the syntactic processing of both music and language, and further, these networks may possibly be shared.

from Brain and Language

Language and syntactic impairment following stroke in late bilingual aphasics

Conclusion
This pilot study suggests that, in late bilingual aphasics, syntactic judgment abilities may be more severely impaired in L2, and that this syntactic deficit is most likely to occur following anterior lesions.

from Brain and Language

Conceptual influences on word order and voice in sentence production: Evidence from Japanese

Two experiments using a sentence recall task tested the effect of animacy on syntactic processing in Japanese sentence production. Experiment 1 and 2 showed that when Japanese native speakers recalled transitive sentences, they were more likely to assign animate entities earlier positions in the sentence than inanimate entities. In addition, Experiment 2 showed that they were more likely to recall animate entities than inanimate entities as sentence subjects in active and passive sentences. Thus conceptual information influenced both the way in which grammatical functions were assigned and choice of word order. We consider the implications of these findings for theories of language production.

from the Journal of Memory and Language

The Effect of Prosody on Distributional Learning in 12- to 13-Month-Old Infants

Distributional information is a potential cue for learning syntactic categories. Recent studies demonstrate a developmental trajectory in the level of abstraction of distributional learning in young infants. Here we investigate the effect of prosody on infants’ learning of adjacent relations between words. Twelve- to thirteen-month-old infants were exposed to an artificial language comprised of 3-word-sentences of the form aXb and cYd, where X and Y words differed in the number of syllables. Training sentences contained a prosodic boundary between either the first and the second word or the second and the third word. Subsequently, infants were tested on novel test sentences that contained new X and Y words and also contained a flat prosody with no grouping cues. Infants successfully discriminated between novel grammatical and ungrammatical sentences, suggesting that the learned adjacent relations can be abstracted across words and prosodic conditions. Under the conditions tested, prosody may be only a weak constraint on syntactic categorization. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

from Infant and Child Development

Are left fronto-temporal brain areas a prerequisite for normal music-syntactic processing?

An increasing number of neuroimaging studies in music cognition research suggest that “language areas” are involved in the processing of musical syntax, but none of these studies clarified whether these areas are a prerequisite for normal syntax processing in music. The present electrophysiological experiment tested whether patients with lesions in Broca’s area (N=6) or in the left anterior temporal lobe (N=7) exhibit deficits in the processing of structure in music compared to matched healthy controls (N=13). A chord sequence paradigm was applied, and the amplitude and scalp topography of the Early Right Anterior Negativity (ERAN) was examined, an electrophysiological marker of musical syntax processing that correlates with activity in Broca’s area and its right hemisphere homotope. Left inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) (but not anterior superior temporal gyrus – aSTG) patients with lesions older than 4 years showed an ERAN with abnormal scalp distribution, and subtle behavioural deficits in detecting music-syntactic irregularities. In one IFG patient tested 7 months post-stroke, the ERAN was extinguished and the behavioural performance remained at chance level. These combined results suggest that the left IFG, known to be crucial for syntax processing in language, plays also a functional role in the processing of musical syntax. Hence, the present findings are consistent with the notion that Broca’s area supports the processing of syntax in a rather domain-general way.

from Cortex

Are left fronto-temporal brain areas a prerequisite for normal music-syntactic processing?

An increasing number of neuroimaging studies in music cognition research suggest that “language areas” are involved in the processing of musical syntax, but none of these studies clarified whether these areas are a prerequisite for normal syntax processing in music. The present electrophysiological experiment tested whether patients with lesions in Broca’s area (N=6) or in the left anterior temporal lobe (N=7) exhibit deficits in the processing of structure in music compared to matched healthy controls (N=13). A chord sequence paradigm was applied, and the amplitude and scalp topography of the Early Right Anterior Negativity (ERAN) was examined, an electrophysiological marker of musical syntax processing that correlates with activity in Broca’s area and its right hemisphere homotope. Left inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) (but not anterior superior temporal gyrus – aSTG) patients with lesions older than 4 years showed an ERAN with abnormal scalp distribution, and subtle behavioural deficits in detecting music-syntactic irregularities. In one IFG patient tested 7 months post-stroke, the ERAN was extinguished and the behavioural performance remained at chance level. These combined results suggest that the left IFG, known to be crucial for syntax processing in language, plays also a functional role in the processing of musical syntax. Hence, the present findings are consistent with the notion that Broca’s area supports the processing of syntax in a rather domain-general way.

from Cortex

Are left fronto-temporal brain areas a prerequisite for normal music-syntactic processing?

An increasing number of neuroimaging studies in music cognition research suggest that “language areas” are involved in the processing of musical syntax, but none of these studies clarified whether these areas are a prerequisite for normal syntax processing in music. The present electrophysiological experiment tested whether patients with lesions in Broca’s area (N=6) or in the left anterior temporal lobe (N=7) exhibit deficits in the processing of structure in music compared to matched healthy controls (N=13). A chord sequence paradigm was applied, and the amplitude and scalp topography of the Early Right Anterior Negativity (ERAN) was examined, an electrophysiological marker of musical syntax processing that correlates with activity in Broca’s area and its right hemisphere homotope. Left inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) (but not anterior superior temporal gyrus – aSTG) patients with lesions older than 4 years showed an ERAN with abnormal scalp distribution, and subtle behavioural deficits in detecting music-syntactic irregularities. In one IFG patient tested 7 months post-stroke, the ERAN was extinguished and the behavioural performance remained at chance level. These combined results suggest that the left IFG, known to be crucial for syntax processing in language, plays also a functional role in the processing of musical syntax. Hence, the present findings are consistent with the notion that Broca’s area supports the processing of syntax in a rather domain-general way.

from Cortex

Examining the evidence for an independent semantic analyzer: An ERP study in Spanish

Recent ERP findings challenge the widespread assumption that syntactic and semantic processes are tightly coupled. Syntactically well-formed sentences that are semantically anomalous due to thematic mismatches elicit a P600, the component standardly associated with syntactic anomaly. This ‘thematic P600’ effect has been attributed to detection of semantically plausible thematic relations that conflict with the surface syntactic structure of the sentence, implying a processing architecture with an independent semantic analyzer. A key finding is that the P600 is selectively sensitive to the presence of plausible verb-argument relations, and that otherwise an N400 is elicited (The hearty meal was devouring … vs. The dusty tabletop was devouring …: Kim & Osterhout, 2005). The current study investigates in Spanish whether the evidence for an independent semantic analyzer is better explained by a standard architecture that rapidly integrates multiple sources of lexical, syntactic, and semantic information. The study manipulated the presence of plausible thematic relations, and varied the choice of auxiliary between passive-biased fue and active-progressive biased estaba. Results show a late positivity that appeared as soon as comprehenders detected an improbable combination of subject animacy, auxiliary bias, or verb voice morphology. This effect appeared at the lexical verb in the fue conditions and at the auxiliary in the estaba conditions. The late positivity elicited by surface thematic anomalies was the same, regardless of the presence of a plausible non-surface interpretation, and no N400 effects were elicited. These findings do not implicate an independent semantic analyzer, and are compatible with standard language processing architectures.

from Brain and Language

The production and comprehension of verbs with alternating transitivity by patients with non-fluent aphasia

Conclusion: We suggest, in agreement with other researchers (for example, Schwartz, Linebarger, Saffran, & Pate, 1987) that aphasic individuals overuse a mapping strategy that associates the theta roles of agent and theme with syntactic subject and object respectively, as they produce transitive (S)VO structures, to a large extent, instead of unaccusatives. In addition, as they had difficulties with unaccusative verbs marked for active voice, we suggest that they could not successfully interpret unaccusative verbs with active voice morphology as non-agentive structures.

from Aphasiology

Associations Between Syntax and the Lexicon Among Children With or Without ASD and Language Impairment

Five groups of children defined by presence or absence of syntactic deficits and autism spectrum disorders (ASD) took vocabulary tests and provided sentences, definitions, and word associations. Children with ASD who were free of syntactic deficits demonstrated age-appropriate word knowledge. Children with ASD plus concomitant syntactic language impairments (ASDLI) performed similarly to peers with specific language impairment (SLI) and both demonstrated sparse lexicons characterized by partial word knowledge and immature knowledge of word-to-word relationships. This behavioral overlap speaks to the robustness of the syntax–lexicon interface and points to a similarity in the ASDLI and SLI phenotypes.

from the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

Understanding of auditory discourse in older adults: The effects of syntax and working memory

Conclusions: Older adults may be less efficient in forming syntactically complex representations and this may be influenced by limitations in working memory.

from Aphasiology

The interpretation of stressed and non-stressed pronouns in Spanish language breakdown

Conclusions: We claim that patients’ problems with the interpretation of pronouns are not the result of missing syntactic knowledge, but are due to patients’ limited ability to keep syntactic configurations in their syntactic working memory. We argue that their preference for subjects as antecedents for pronouns reflects a fall-back strategy in agrammatic patients when, as a result of limited processing resources, syntax-based interpretative operations fail.

from Aphasiology

Left inferior frontal cortex and syntax: function, structure and behaviour in patients with left hemisphere damage

For the past 150 years, neurobiological models of language have debated the role of key brain regions in language function. One consistently debated set of issues concern the role of the left inferior frontal gyrus in syntactic processing. Here we combine measures of functional activity, grey matter integrity and performance in patients with left hemisphere damage and healthy participants to ask whether the left inferior frontal gyrus is essential for syntactic processing. In a functional neuroimaging study, participants listened to spoken sentences that either contained a syntactically ambiguous or matched unambiguous phrase. Behavioural data on three tests of syntactic processing were subsequently collected. In controls, syntactic processing co-activated left hemisphere Brodmann areas 45/47 and posterior middle temporal gyrus. Activity in a left parietal cluster was sensitive to working memory demands in both patients and controls. Exploiting the variability in lesion location and performance in the patients, voxel-based correlational analyses showed that tissue integrity and neural activity—primarily in left Brodmann area 45 and posterior middle temporal gyrus—were correlated with preserved syntactic performance, but unlike the controls, patients were insensitive to syntactic preferences, reflecting their syntactic deficit. These results argue for the essential contribution of the left inferior frontal gyrus in syntactic analysis and highlight the functional relationship between left Brodmann area 45 and the left posterior middle temporal gyrus, suggesting that when this relationship breaks down, through damage to either region or to the connections between them, syntactic processing is impaired. On this view, the left inferior frontal gyrus may not itself be specialized for syntactic processing, but plays an essential role in the neural network that carries out syntactic computations.

from Brain