Language in the Brain - MINDLab


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Language in the Brain


Coordinator: Ken Ramshøj Christensen
Department of English
Arts, Aarhus University

Based on previous research (Drozd 2006, Kratschmer 2005), we will focus on how linguistic structure is processed in the brain and how the brain responds to syntactic, semantic and pragmatic constraints on linguistic form.

Research question 1: Do different variations of word-order trigger different cortical responses? Some word- order variations, such as wh-questions (e.g., Who do you think she met?), but not all, are known to increase activation in Broca’s area. The brain’s response to other types, such as Raising constructions (e.g., She seems to be wrong), has largely been overlooked. We aim to test the Domain Hypothesis (Christensen 2008), according to which wh-questions and Raising constructions are predicted to have different cortical fingerprints, and to see if Raising, unlike wh-questions, engages right-hemisphere networks involved in figure/ground configurations.

Research question 2: Do all extractions across clause-boundaries engage Broca’s area? Though many embedded clauses are known to be problematic in Broca’s aphasia, the significance of clause-boundaries has received little attention in neuroimaging. Our aim is to investigate the cortical response to clause-external extraction and to test whether Broca’s area is involved due to contextualization.

Research question 3: How does the brain represent and process quantificational expressions (e.g., all, many, few, some)? This is one of the most difficult and least understood problems in cognitive neuroscience. Quantifier scope ambiguities (They all have a problem same or different problems) are difficult for young children and for adults with limited working memory capacity. Furthermore, focus readings of synonymous quantified sentences, cf. 98% success vs. 2% failure, are highly context-dependent. We aim to explore the cortical networks involved in quantifier comprehension, and the involvement of inferior parietal cortex (crucial to numerical processing) and Broca’s area (in multiple-choice and contextualization).

Research strategy: The Language in the Brain group plans 4 fMRI studies: (1) Different types of extraction, (2) Extractions and clause-boundaries, (3) Quantification and scope ambiguity, and (4) Quantification and focus. The work will be carried out in close collaboration with Dr. Douglas Saddy Dr. Naama Friedmann.

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Revised 7-5-2012