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Syntactic Dependencies as Memorized Sequences in the Brain

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 June 2016

Yosef Grodzinsky*
McGill University/Tel Aviv University


The prospects of a cognitive neuroscience of syntax are considered with respect to functional neuroanatomy of two seemingly independent systems: Working Memory and syntactic representation and processing. It is proposed that these two systems are more closely related than previously supposed. In particular, it is claimed that a sentence with anaphoric dependencies involves several Working Memories, each entrusted with a different linguistic function. Components of Working Memory reside in the Left Inferior Frontal Gyrus, which is associated with Broca’s region. When lesioned, this area manifests comprehension disruptions in the ability to analyze intra-sentential dependencies, suggesting that Working Memory spans over syntactic computations. The unification of considerations regarding Working Memory with a purely syntactic approach to Broca’s regions leads to the conclusion that mechanisms that compute transformations—and no other syntactic relations—reside in this area.



La possibilité d’une neuroscience cognitive de la syntaxe est considérée par rapport à la neuroanatomie fonctionnelle de deux systèmes qui sont apparemment independents : la Mémoire de Travail et la repésentation syntaxique et son traitement. Il est proposé que ces deux systèmes sont plus apparentés qu’il ne l’a été supposé. En particulier, il est suggéré qu’une proposition avec des dépendances anaphoriques entraîne plusieurs Mémoires de Travail, chacune chargée avec une fonction linguistique différente. Les composants de la Mémoire de Travail résident dans la partie inférieure de la circonvolution frontale gauche qui est associée avec la région de Broca. Lorsque lésionnée, cette région manifeste des perturbations de compréhension dans la capacité d’analyser des dépendances à l’intérieur d’une proposition, suggérant que la Mémoire de Travail enjambe les computations syntaxiques. L’unification des considérations concernant la Mémoire de Travail avec une approche purement syntactique aux régions de Broca amène à conclure que les mécanismes qui font la computation de transformations—et nul autre relation syntaxique—résident dans cette région.

Part III: Language and the Theory of Mind
Copyright © Canadian Linguistic Association 2005

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