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Should psycholinguistics ignore the language of the brain? [Invited lecture]


Hagoort,  Peter
Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour;
Neurobiology of Language Department, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;

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Hagoort, P. (2013). Should psycholinguistics ignore the language of the brain? [Invited lecture]. Talk presented at the 26th Annual CUNY Conference on Human Sentence Processing [CUNY 2013]. Columbia, SC. 2013-03-21 - 2013-03-23.

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From a functionalist perspective all that brain research is claimed to have told us is that language processing "happens somewhere north of the neck" (Jerry Fodor, 1999). I will argue why I disagree with this conclusion, for at least the following three reasons. First, one fundamental question in the language sciences is: what makes the human brain language-ready? Understanding the neural architecture that supports human language function is a crucial part of the explanandum. I will show some unique features of human perisylvian cortex based on data from Diffusion Tensor Imaging and resting state fMRI. The second argument is that even if one is only interested in the cognitive architecture of language comprehension and production, relevant evidence can be obtained from neurobiological data, both structural and functional. I will discuss the consequences of connectivity patterns in the brain for assumptions in processing models of language, and I will show fMRI data based on a repetition suppression paradigm that provide evidence for the claim that syntactic encoding and parsing are based on the same mechanism. Finally, I will argue that framing theories of sentence processing in a way that connects to other areas of cognitive neuroscience might be helpful in asking interesting and relevant new questions. I will illustrate this in the context of the Memory, Unification and Control (MUC) model of language.