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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.

SUBMITTER: Meltzer JA 

PROVIDER: S-EPMC2901020 | BioStudies | 2010-01-01T00:00:00Z

REPOSITORIES: biostudies

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