The brain circuitry of syntactic comprehension

Edith Kaan, Tamara Y. Swaab
2002 Trends in Cognitive Sciences  
Review Reading or hearing a sentence such as 'The little old man knocked out the giant wrestler' demonstrates the crucial role of syntax in normal language understanding. Identifying who did what to whom enables humans to understand the unlikely scenario that is described here. Thus, syntactic information helps us combine the words we hear or read in a particular way such that we can extract the meaning of sentences (see Box 1). Many regard syntax as a cognitive module that is separable from
more » ... er more general cognitive processes such as memory and attention [1] and whose properties can be distinguished from semantic-conceptual information ('meaning') [2] . In this tradition, some theories of sentence processing propose a separate syntactic processing mechanism that is insensitive to nonsyntactic information [3] . However, alternative views exist [4, 5] . Given these competing views of syntax, one can ask whether there is neurological evidence in favor of a syntactic processing module [1]; that is, is there a specific area in the brain that is specialized for syntax alone? Evidence from brain lesions Research on the relationship between brain and language dates back to the mid-to late-1800s when Paul Broca and Karl Wernicke linked specific lesions in the brain to specific language deficits known as aphasia. Broca identified patients with problems in Syntactic comprehension is a fundamental aspect of human language, and has distinct properties from other aspects of language (e.g. semantics). In this article, we aim to identify if there is a specific locus of syntax in the brain by reviewing imaging studies on syntactic processing. We conclude that results from neuroimaging support evidence from neuropsychology that syntactic processing does not recruit one specific area. Instead a network of areas including Broca's area and anterior, middle and superior areas of the temporal lobes is involved. However, none of these areas appears to be syntax specific. determinants of perceived 3D structure. Vision Res. 26, 973-990 5 Bruno, N. and Cutting, J.E. (1988) Minimodularity and the perception of layout. The appearance of surfaces specified by motion parallax and binocular disparity. Q. J. Exp. Psychol. A 41, 697-717 9 Johnston, E.B. et al. (1993) Integration of depth modules: stereopsis and texture. Vision Res. 33, 813-826 10 Nawrot, M. and Blake, R. (1993) On the perceptual identity of dynamic stereopsis and kinetic depth. Vision Res. 33, 1561-1571 11 Young, M.J. et al. (1993) A perturbation analysis of depth perception from combinations of texture and motion cues. Vision Res. 33, 2685-2696 12 Landy, M.S. et al. (1995) Measurement and modeling of depth cue combination: in defense of weak fusion. Vision Res. 35, 389-412 13 Frisby, J.P. et al. (1996) Stereo and texture cue integration in the perception of planar and curved large real surfaces. In Attention and Performance 16:
doi:10.1016/s1364-6613(02)01947-2 pmid:12140086 fatcat:yd6pdgggffeh3oqvhmhkbwq624