Neural aspects of sentence comprehension: syntactic complexity, reversibility, and reanalysis.
ABSTRACT: Broca's area is preferentially activated by reversible sentences with complex syntax, but various linguistic factors may be responsible for this finding, including syntactic movement, working-memory demands, and post hoc reanalysis. To distinguish between these, we tested the interaction of syntactic complexity and semantic reversibility in a functional magnetic resonance imaging study of sentence-picture matching. During auditory comprehension, semantic reversibility induced selective activation throughout the left perisylvian language network. In contrast, syntactic complexity (object-embedded vs. subject-embedded relative clauses) within reversible sentences engaged only the left inferior frontal gyrus (LIFG) and left precentral gyrus. Within irreversible sentences, only the LIFG was sensitive to syntactic complexity, confirming a unique role for this region in syntactic processing. Nonetheless, larger effects of reversibility itself occurred in the same regions, suggesting that full syntactic parsing may be a nonautomatic process applied as needed. Complex reversible sentences also induced enhanced signals in LIFG and left precentral regions on subsequent picture selection, but with additional recruitment of the right hemisphere homolog area (right inferior frontal gyrus) as well, suggesting that post hoc reanalysis of sentence structure, compared with initial comprehension, engages an overlapping but larger network of brain regions. These dissociable effects may offer a basis for studying the reorganization of receptive language function after brain damage.
Project description:Prior research has shown that the perception of degraded speech is influenced by within sentence meaning and recruits one or more components of a frontal-temporal-parietal network. The goal of the current study is to examine whether the overall conceptual meaning of a sentence, made up of one set of words, influences the perception of a second acoustically degraded sentence, made up of a different set of words. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we presented an acoustically clear sentence followed by an acoustically degraded sentence and manipulated the semantic relationship between them: Related in meaning (but consisting of different content words), Unrelated in meaning, or Same. Results showed that listeners' word recognition accuracy for the acoustically degraded sentences was significantly higher when the target sentence was preceded by a conceptually related compared to a conceptually unrelated sentence. Sensitivity to conceptual relationships was associated with enhanced activity in middle and inferior frontal, temporal, and parietal areas. In addition, the left middle frontal gyrus (LMFG), left inferior frontal gyrus (LIFG), and left middle temporal gyrus (LMTG) showed activity that correlated with individual performance on the Related condition. The superior temporal gyrus (STG) showed increased activation in the Same condition suggesting that it is sensitive to perceptual similarity rather than the integration of meaning between the sentence pairs. A fronto-temporo-parietal network appears to consolidate information sources across multiple levels of language (acoustic, lexical, syntactic, semantic) to build, and ultimately integrate conceptual information across sentences and facilitate the perception of a degraded speech signal. However, the nature of the sources of information that are available differentially recruit specific regions and modulate their activity within this network. Implications of these findings for the functional architecture of the network are considered.
Project description:Although the connection between the left inferior frontal gyrus (LIFG) and the left superior temporal gyrus (LSTG) has been found to be essential for the comprehension of relative clause (RC) sentences, it remains unclear how the LIFG and the LSTG interact with each other, especially during the processing of Chinese RC sentences with different processing difficulty. This study thus conducted a 2 × 2 (modifying position × extraction position) factorial analyses to examine how these two factors influences regional brain activation. The results showed that, regardless of the modifying position, greater activation in the LIFG was consistently elicited in Chinese subject-extracted relative clauses (SRCs) with non-canonical word order than object-extracted relative clauses (ORCs) with canonical word order, implying that the LIFG subserving the ordering process primarily contributes to the processing of information with increased integration demands due to the non-canonical sequence. Moreover, the directional connection between the LIFG and the LSTG appeared to be modulated by different modifying positions. When the RC was at the subject-modifying position, the effective connectivity from the LIFG to the LSTG was dominantly activated for sentence comprehension; whereas when the RC was at the object-modifying position thus being more difficult, it might be the feedback mechanism from the LSTG back to the LIFG that took place in sentence processing. These findings reveal that brain activation in between the LIFG and the LSTG may be dynamically modulated by different processing difficulty and suggest the relative specialization but extensive collaboration involved in the LIFG and the LSTG for sentence comprehension.
Project description:According to the cue-based parsing approach (Lewis, Vasishth, & Van Dyke, 2006), sentence comprehension difficulty derives from interference from material that partially matches syntactic and semantic retrieval cues. In a 2 (low vs. high semantic interference)×2 (low vs. high syntactic interference) fMRI study, greater activation was observed in left BA44/45 for high versus low syntactic interference conditions following sentences and in left BA45/47 for high versus low semantic interference conditions following comprehension questions. A conjunction analysis showed BA45 associated with both types of interference, while BA47 was associated with only semantic interference. Greater activation was also observed in the left STG in the high interference conditions. Importantly, the results for the LIFG could not be attributed to greater working memory capacity demands for high interference conditions. The results favor a fractionation of the LIFG wherein BA45 is associated with post-retrieval selection and BA47 with controlled retrieval of semantic information.
Project description:The information contained in a sensory signal plays a critical role in determining what neural processes are engaged. Here we used interleaved silent steady-state (ISSS) functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to explore how human listeners cope with different degrees of acoustic richness during auditory sentence comprehension. Twenty-six healthy young adults underwent scanning while hearing sentences that varied in acoustic richness (high vs. low spectral detail) and syntactic complexity (subject-relative vs. object-relative center-embedded clause structures). We manipulated acoustic richness by presenting the stimuli as unprocessed full-spectrum speech, or noise-vocoded with 24 channels. Importantly, although the vocoded sentences were spectrally impoverished, all sentences were highly intelligible. These manipulations allowed us to test how intelligible speech processing was affected by orthogonal linguistic and acoustic demands. Acoustically rich speech showed stronger activation than acoustically less-detailed speech in a bilateral temporoparietal network with more pronounced activity in the right hemisphere. By contrast, listening to sentences with greater syntactic complexity resulted in increased activation of a left-lateralized network including left posterior lateral temporal cortex, left inferior frontal gyrus, and left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Significant interactions between acoustic richness and syntactic complexity occurred in left supramarginal gyrus, right superior temporal gyrus, and right inferior frontal gyrus, indicating that the regions recruited for syntactic challenge differed as a function of acoustic properties of the speech. Our findings suggest that the neural systems involved in speech perception are finely tuned to the type of information available, and that reducing the richness of the acoustic signal dramatically alters the brain's response to spoken language, even when intelligibility is high.
Project description:Sentence comprehension requires the integration of both syntactic and semantic information, the acquisition of which seems to have different trajectories in the developing brain. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we examined the neural correlates underlying syntactic and semantic processing during auditory sentence comprehension as well as its development in preschool children by manipulating case marking and animacy hierarchy cues, respectively. A functional segregation was observed within Broca's area in the left inferior frontal gyrus for adults, where the pars opercularis was involved in syntactic processing and the pars triangularis in semantic processing. By contrast, five-year-old children sensitive to animacy hierarchy cues showed diffuse activation for semantic processing in the left inferior frontal and posterior temporal cortices. While no main effect of case marking was found in the left fronto-temporal language network, children with better syntactic skills showed greater neural responses for syntactically complex sentences, most prominently in the posterior superior temporal cortex. The current study provides both behavioral and neural evidence that five-year-old children compared to adults rely more on semantic information than on syntactic cues during sentence comprehension, but with the development of syntactic abilities, their brain activation in the left fronto-temporal network increases for syntactic processing.
Project description:Left-hemisphere brain damage commonly affects patients' abilities to produce and comprehend syntactic structures, a condition typically referred to as "agrammatism." The neural correlates of agrammatism remain disputed in the literature, and distributed areas have been implicated as important predictors of performance, for example, Broca's area, anterior temporal areas, and temporo-parietal areas. We examined the association between damage to specific language-related ROIs and impaired syntactic processing in acute aphasia. We hypothesized that damage to the posterior middle temporal gyrus, and not Broca's area, would predict syntactic processing abilities. One hundred four individuals with acute aphasia (<20 days poststroke) were included in the study. Structural MRI scans were obtained, and all participants completed a 45-item sentence-picture matching task. We performed an ROI-based stepwise regression analyses to examine the relation between cortical brain damage and impaired comprehension of canonical and noncanonical sentences. Damage to the posterior middle temporal gyrus was the strongest predictor for overall task performance and performance on noncanonical sentences. Damage to the angular gyrus was the strongest predictor for performance on canonical sentences, and damage to the posterior superior temporal gyrus predicted noncanonical scores when performance on canonical sentences was included as a cofactor. Overall, our models showed that damage to temporo-parietal and posterior temporal areas was associated with impaired syntactic comprehension. Our results indicate that the temporo-parietal area is crucially implicated in complex syntactic processing, whereas the role of Broca's area may be complementary.
Project description:Agrammatism in aphasia is not a homogeneous syndrome, but a characterization of a nonuniform set of language behaviors in which grammatical markers and complex syntactic structures are omitted, simplified, or misinterpreted. In a sample of 71 left-hemisphere stroke survivors, syntactic processing was quantified with the Northwestern Assessment of Verbs and Sentences (NAVS). Classification analyses were used to assess the relation between NAVS performance and morphosyntactically reduced speech in picture descriptions. Voxel-based and connectivity-based lesion-symptom mapping were applied to investigate neural correlates of impaired syntactic processing. Despite a nonrandom correspondence between NAVS performance and morphosyntactic production deficits, there was variation in individual patterns of syntactic processing. Morphosyntactically reduced production was predicted by lesions to left-hemisphere inferior frontal cortex. Impaired verb argument structure production was predicted by damage to left-hemisphere posterior superior temporal and angular gyrus, as well as to a ventral pathway between temporal and frontal cortex. Damage to this pathway was also predictive of impaired sentence comprehension and production, particularly of noncanonical sentences. Although agrammatic speech production is primarily predicted by lesions to inferior frontal cortex, other aspects of syntactic processing rely rather on regional integrity in temporoparietal cortex and the ventral stream.
Project description:Aphasic patients often exhibit increased right hemisphere activity during language tasks. This may represent takeover of function by regions homologous to the left-hemisphere language networks, maladaptive interference, or adaptation of alternate compensatory strategies. To distinguish between these accounts, we tested language comprehension in 25 aphasic patients using an online sentence-picture matching paradigm while measuring brain activation with MEG. Linguistic conditions included semantically irreversible ("The boy is eating the apple") and reversible ("The boy is pushing the girl") sentences at three levels of syntactic complexity. As expected, patients performed well above chance on irreversible sentences, and at chance on reversible sentences of high complexity. Comprehension of reversible non-complex sentences ranged from nearly perfect to chance, and was highly correlated with offline measures of language comprehension. Lesion analysis revealed that comprehension deficits for reversible sentences were predicted by damage to the left temporal lobe. Although aphasic patients activated homologous areas in the right temporal lobe, such activation was not correlated with comprehension performance. Rather, patients with better comprehension exhibited increased activity in dorsal fronto-parietal regions. Correlations between performance and dorsal network activity occurred bilaterally during perception of sentences, and in the right hemisphere during a post-sentence memory delay. These results suggest that effortful reprocessing of perceived sentences in short-term memory can support improved comprehension in aphasia, and that strategic recruitment of alternative networks, rather than homologous takeover, may account for some findings of right hemisphere language activation in aphasia.
Project description:The specific role of the phonological loop in sentence comprehension is still a matter of debate. We tested the behavioural consequences of activity disruption in left BA40 and BA44, key regions of the phonological loop, on language comprehension using 1Hz rTMS. Comprehension was assessed by means of two tasks: a sentence-to-picture matching task, with sentences varying in length and syntactic complexity (Experiment 1), and a sentence verification task (Experiment 2). rTMS over left BA40 significantly reduced accuracy for syntactically complex sentences and long, but syntactically simpler sentences, while rTMS over left BA44 significantly reduced accuracy only for syntactically complex sentences. rTMS applied over left BA40 also impaired performance on sentences in which word order was crucial. We suggest that the neural correlates of the phonological loop, left BA40 and BA44, are both involved in the comprehension of syntactically complex sentences, while only left BA40, corresponding to the short-term store, is recruited for the comprehension of long but syntactically simple sentences. Therefore, in contrast with the dominant view, we showed that sentence comprehension is a function of the phonological loop.
Project description:The current fMRI adaptation study sought to elucidate the dimensions of syntactic complexity and their underlying neural substrates. For the first time with fMRI, we investigated repetition suppression (i.e., fMRI adaptation) for two orthogonal dimensions of sentence complexity: embedding position (right-branching vs. center-embedding) and movement type (subject vs. object). Two novel results were obtained: First, we found syntactic adaptation in Broca's area and second, this adaptation was structured. Anterior Broca's area (BA 45) selectively adapted to movement type, while posterior Broca's area (BA 44) demonstrated adaptation to both movement type and embedding position (as did left posterior superior temporal gyrus and right inferior precentral sulcus). The functional distinction within Broca's area is critical not only to an understanding of the functional neuroanatomy of language, but also to theoretical accounts of syntactic complexity, demonstrating its multi-dimensional nature. These results implicate that during syntactic comprehension, a large network of areas is engaged, but that only anterior Broca's area is selective to syntactic movement.