Tag: Language

Hearing sounds as words: Neural responses to environmental sounds in the context of fluent speech

Hearing sounds as words: Neural responses to environmental sounds in the context of fluent speech

Published in: Brain and Language, Volume 179, April 2018, 51-61

Abstract
“Environmental sounds (ES) can be understood easily when substituted for words in sentences, suggesting that linguistic context benefits may be mediated by processes more general than some language-specific theories assert. However, the underlying neural processing is not understood. EEG was recorded for spoken sentences ending in either a spoken word or a corresponding ES. Endings were either congruent or incongruent with the sentence frame, and thus were expected to produce N400 activity. However, if ES and word meanings are combined with language context by different mechanisms, different N400 responses would be expected. Incongruent endings (both words and ES) elicited frontocentral negativities corresponding to the N400 typically observed to incongruent spoken words. Moreover, sentential constraint had similar effects on N400 topographies to ES and words. Comparison of speech and ES responses suggests that understanding meaning in speech context may be mediated by similar neural mechanisms for these two types of stimuli.”

Written by: Sophia Uddin, Shannon L.M. Heald, Stephen C. Van Hedger, Howard C. Nusbaum,
For full text: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bandl.2018.02.004

The motor features of action verbs: fMRI evidence using picture naming

The motor features of action verbs: fMRI evidence using picture naming

Published in: Brain and Language, Volume 179, April 2018, 22-32

Abstract
“The processing disadvantage of verbs compared to nouns and the greater vulnerability of verbs in brain damage have been ascribed to greater processing demands of morpho-syntactical or/and semantic properties for verbs, or/and visual complexity in picture-naming studies. Using picture naming, the current functional magnetic resonance imaging study examined the neural substrates underlying the semantic distinction between nouns and verbs. Under forced (externally-elicited) or free (internally-motivated) conditions, participants named a set of pictorial stimuli as objects or actions performed on/with the objects in Chinese. Use of a language with impoverished inflectional morphology (i.e., Chinese) and the same set of pictures for naming objects and actions allows for the control of both morpho-syntactical and visual confounds. The results revealed specific neural correlates for action verbs in the cortical-subcortical motor system, irrespective of the naming conditions. Plausible accounts for the motor aspects of action-verb processing were interpreted basically on a semantic basis.”

Written by: Yong Zhang, Kangcheng Wang, Chang Yue, Nina Mo, Deping Wu, Xu Wen, Jiang Qiu
For full text: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bandl.2018.02.002

Task-residual functional connectivity of language and attention networks

Task-residual functional connectivity of language and attention networks

Published in: Brain and Cognition, Volume 122, April 2018, 52-58

Abstract
“Functional connectivity using task-residual data capitalizes on remaining variance after mean task-related signal is removed from a time series. The degree of network specificity in language and attention domains featured by task-residual and resting-state data types were compared. Functional connectivity based on task-residual data evidenced stronger laterality of the language and attention connections and thus greater network specificity compared to resting-state functional connectivity of the same connections. Covariance between network nodes of task-residuals may thus reflect the degree to which two regions are coordinated in their specific activity, rather than a general shared co-activation. Task-residual functional connectivity provides complementary data to that of resting-state, emphasizing network relationships during task engagement.”

Written by: Stella M. Tran, Keith M. McGregor, George Andrew James, Kaundinya Gopinath, Venkatagiri Krishnamurthy, Lisa C. Krishnamurthy, Bruce Crosson
For full text: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bandc.2018.02.003

Effects of metric hierarchy and rhyme predictability on word duration in The Cat in the Hat

Effects of metric hierarchy and rhyme predictability on word duration in The Cat in the Hat

Published in: Cognition, Volume 174, May 2018, 71-81

Abstract
“Word durations convey many types of linguistic information, including intrinsic lexical features like length and frequency and contextual features like syntactic and semantic structure. The current study was designed to investigate whether hierarchical metric structure and rhyme predictability account for durational variation over and above other features in productions of a rhyming, metrically-regular children’s book: The Cat in the Hat (Dr. Seuss, 1957). One-syllable word durations and inter-onset intervals were modeled as functions of segment number, lexical frequency, word class, syntactic structure, repetition, and font emphasis. Consistent with prior work, factors predicting longer word durations and inter-onset intervals included more phonemes, lower frequency, first mention, alignment with a syntactic boundary, and capitalization. A model parameter corresponding to metric grid height improved model fit of word durations and inter-onset intervals. Specifically, speakers realized five levels of metric hierarchy with inter-onset intervals such that interval duration increased linearly with increased height in the metric hierarchy. Conversely, speakers realized only three levels of metric hierarchy with word duration, demonstrating that they shortened the highly predictable rhyme resolutions. These results further understanding of the factors that affect spoken word duration, and demonstrate the myriad cues that children receive about linguistic structure from nursery rhymes.”

Written by: Mara Breen
For full text: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2018.01.014

Alternative Solutions to a Language Design Problem: The Role of Adjectives and Gender Marking in Efficient Communication

Alternative Solutions to a Language Design Problem: The Role of Adjectives and Gender Marking in Efficient Communication

Published in: Topics in Cognitive Science, Volume 10, Issue 1, 209-224

Abstract
“A central goal of typological research is to characterize linguistic features in terms of both their functional role and their fit to social and cognitive systems. One long‐standing puzzle concerns why certain languages employ grammatical gender. In an information theoretic analysis of German noun classification, Dye, Milin, Futrell, and Ramscar (2017) enumerated a number of important processing advantages gender confers. Yet this raises a further puzzle: If gender systems are so beneficial to processing, what does this mean for languages that make do without them? Here, we compare the communicative function of gender marking in German (a deterministic system) to that of prenominal adjectives in English (a probabilistic one), finding that despite their differences, both systems act to efficiently smooth information over discourse, making nouns more equally predictable in context. We examine why evolutionary pressures may favor one system over another and discuss the implications for compositional accounts of meaning and Gricean principles of communication.”

Written by: Melody Dye, Petar Milin, Richard Futrell, Michael Ramscar
For full text: https://doi.org/10.1111/tops.12316

What can autism teach us about the role of sensorimotor systems in higher cognition? New clues from studies on language, action semantics, and abstract emotional concept processing

What can autism teach us about the role of sensorimotor systems in higher cognition? New clues from studies on language, action semantics, and abstract emotional concept processing

Published in: Cortex, Volume 100, March 2018, 149-190

Abstract
“Within the neurocognitive literature there is much debate about the role of the motor system in language, social communication and conceptual processing. We suggest, here, that autism spectrum conditions (ASC) may afford an excellent test case for investigating and evaluating contemporary neurocognitive models, most notably a neurobiological theory of action perception integration where widely-distributed cell assemblies linking neurons in action and perceptual brain regions act as the building blocks of many higher cognitive functions. We review a literature of functional motor abnormalities in ASC, following this with discussion of their neural correlates and aberrancies in language development, explaining how these might arise with reference to the typical formation of cell assemblies linking action and perceptual brain regions. This model gives rise to clear hypotheses regarding language comprehension, and we highlight a recent set of studies reporting differences in brain activation and behaviour in the processing of action-related and abstract-emotional concepts in individuals with ASC. At the neuroanatomical level, we discuss structural differences in long-distance frontotemporal and frontoparietal connections in ASC, such as would compromise information transfer between sensory and motor regions. This neurobiological model of action perception integration may shed light on the cognitive and social-interactive symptoms of ASC, building on and extending earlier proposals linking autistic symptomatology to motor disorder and dysfunction in action perception integration. Further investigating the contribution of motor dysfunction to higher cognitive and social impairment, we suggest, is timely and promising as it may advance both neurocognitive theory and the development of new clinical interventions for this population and others characterised by early and pervasive motor disruption.”

Written by: Rachel L. Moseley, Friedemann Pulvermüller
For full text: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cortex.2017.11.019

When syntax meets action: Brain potential evidence of overlapping between language and motor sequencing

When syntax meets action: Brain potential evidence of overlapping between language and motor sequencing

Published in: Cortex, Volume 100, March 2018, 40-51

Abstract
“This study aims to extend the embodied cognition approach to syntactic processing. The hypothesis is that the brain resources to plan and perform motor sequences are also involved in syntactic processing. To test this hypothesis, Event-Related brain Potentials (ERPs) were recorded while participants read sentences with embedded relative clauses, judging for their acceptability (half of the sentences contained a subject-verb morphosyntactic disagreement). The sentences, previously divided into three segments, were self-administered segment-by-segment in two different sequential manners: linear or non-linear. Linear self-administration consisted of successively pressing three buttons with three consecutive fingers in the right hand, while non-linear self-administration implied the substitution of the finger in the middle position by the right foot. Our aim was to test whether syntactic processing could be affected by the manner the sentences were self-administered. Main results revealed that the ERPs LAN component vanished whereas the P600 component increased in response to incorrect verbs, for non-linear relative to linear self-administration. The LAN and P600 components reflect early and late syntactic processing, respectively. Our results convey evidence that language syntactic processing and performing non-linguistic motor sequences may share resources in the human brain.”

Written by: Pilar Casado, Manuel Martin-Loeches, Inmaculada Leon, David Hernandez-Gutierrez, Javier Espuny, Francisco Muñoz, Laura Jimenez-Ortega, Sabela Fondevila, Manuel de Vega
For full text: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cortex.2017.11.002

Abstract semantics in the motor system? – An event-related fMRI study on passive reading of semantic word categories carrying abstract emotional and mental meaning

Abstract semantics in the motor system? – An event-related fMRI study on passive reading of semantic word categories carrying abstract emotional and mental meaning

Published in: Cortex, Volume 100, March 2018, 52-70

Abstract
“Previous research showed that modality-preferential sensorimotor areas are relevant for processing concrete words used to speak about actions. However, whether modality-preferential areas also play a role for abstract words is still under debate. Whereas recent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies suggest an involvement of motor cortex in processing the meaning of abstract emotion words as, for example, ‘love’, other non-emotional abstract words, in particular ‘mental words’, such as ‘thought’ or ‘logic’, are believed to engage ‘amodal’ semantic systems only. In the present event-related fMRI experiment, subjects passively read abstract emotional and mental nouns along with concrete action related words. Contrary to expectation, the results indicate a specific involvement of face motor areas in the processing of mental nouns, resembling that seen for face related action words. This result was confirmed when subject-specific regions of interest (ROIs) defined by motor localizers were used. We conclude that a role of motor systems in semantic processing is not restricted to concrete words but extends to at least some abstract mental symbols previously thought to be entirely ‘disembodied’ and divorced from semantically related sensorimotor processing. Implications for neurocognitive theories of semantics and clinical applications will be highlighted, paying specific attention to the role of brain activations as indexes of cognitive processes and their relationships to ‘causal’ studies addressing lesion and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) effects. Possible implications for clinical practice, in particular speech language therapy, are discussed in closing.”

Written by: Felix R. Dreyer, Friedemann Pulvermüller
For full text: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cortex.2017.10.021

Improved statistical learning abilities in adult bilinguals

Improved statistical learning abilities in adult bilinguals

Published in: Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, Volume 21, Issue 2, 427-433

Abstract
“Using multiple languages may confer distinct advantages in cognitive control, yet it is unclear whether bilingualism is associated with better implicit statistical learning, a core cognitive ability underlying language. We tested bilingual adults on a challenging task requiring simultaneous learning of two miniature grammars characterized by different statistics. We found that participants learned each grammar significantly better than chance and both grammars equally well. Crucially, a validated continuous measure of bilingual dominance predicted accuracy scores for both artificial grammars in a generalized linear model. The study thus demonstrates the first graded advantage in learning novel statistical relations in adult bilinguals.”

Written by: Luca Onnis, Win Ee Chun, Matthew Lou-Magnuson
For full text: https://doi.org/10.1017/S1366728917000529

From meaning to categorization: The hierarchical recruitment of brain circuits selective for action verbs

From meaning to categorization: The hierarchical recruitment of brain circuits selective for action verbs

Published in: Cortex, Volume 100, March 2018, 95-100

Abstract
“Sensorimotor and affective brain systems are known to be involved in language processing. However, to date it is still debated whether this involvement is a crucial step of semantic processing or, on the contrary, it is dependent on the specific context or strategy adopted to solve a task at hand. The present electroencephalographic (EEG) study is aimed at investigating which brain circuits are engaged when processing written verbs. By aligning event-related potentials (ERPs) both to the verb onset and to the motor response indexing the accomplishment of a semantic task of categorization, we were able to dissociate the relative stimulus-related and response-related cognitive components at play, respectively. EEG signal source reconstruction showed that while the recruitment of sensorimotor fronto-parietal circuits was time-locked with action verb onset, a left temporal-parietal circuit was time-locked to the task accomplishment. Crucially, by comparing the time course of both these bottom-up and top-down cognitive components, it appears that the frontal motor involvement precedes the task-related temporal-parietal activity. The present findings suggest that the recruitment of fronto-parietal sensorimotor circuits is independent of the specific strategy adopted to solve a semantic task and, given its temporal hierarchy, it may provide crucial information to brain circuits involved in the categorization task. Eventually, a discussion on how the present results may contribute to the clinical literature on patients affected by disorders specifically impairing the motor system is provided.”

Written by: Riccardo Dalla Volta, Pietro Avanzini, Doriana De Marco, Maurizio Gentilucci, Maddalena Fabbri-Destro
For full text: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cortex.2017.09.012

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