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Journal Article

A neuronal gamma oscillatory signature during morphological unification in the left occipitotemporal junction


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

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Levy, J., Hagoort, P., & Démonet, J.-F. (2014). A neuronal gamma oscillatory signature during morphological unification in the left occipitotemporal junction. Human Brain Mapping, 35, 5847-5860. doi:10.1002/hbm.22589.

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Morphology is the aspect of language concerned with the internal structure of words. In the past decades, a large body of masked priming (behavioral and neuroimaging) data has suggested that the visual word recognition system automatically decomposes any morphologically complex word into a stem and its constituent morphemes. Yet the reliance of morphology on other reading processes (e.g., orthography and semantics), as well as its underlying neuronal mechanisms are yet to be determined. In the current magnetoencephalography study, we addressed morphology from the perspective of the unification framework, that is, by applying the Hold/Release paradigm, morphological unification was simulated via the assembly of internal morphemic units into a whole word. Trials representing real words were divided into words with a transparent (true) or a nontransparent (pseudo) morphological relationship. Morphological unification of truly suffixed words was faster and more accurate and additionally enhanced induced oscillations in the narrow gamma band (60–85 Hz, 260–440 ms) in the left posterior occipitotemporal junction. This neural signature could not be explained by a mere automatic lexical processing (i.e., stem perception), but more likely it related to a semantic access step during the morphological unification process. By demonstrating the validity of unification at the morphological level, this study contributes to the vast empirical evidence on unification across other language processes. Furthermore, we point out that morphological unification relies on the retrieval of lexical semantic associations via induced gamma band oscillations in a cerebral hub region for visual word form processing.