Differences in grammatical processing strategies for active and passive sentences: An fMRI study

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Many studies have used a neuroscience-based approach towards examination of writing and reading skills and how these might differ between languages. However, few studies have focused on differences in grammatical processing that may be specific to certain languages. Studies have shown that grammar for active and passive sentences differs between Chinese and English. Chinese, a morphologically non-inflectional language, is visibly different from inflectional languages in terms of verb morphology changes but similar in terms of subject and object transformation movements. We used a blocked design functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study to examine brain activations during processing of three types of Chinese sentences: active sentences, passive sentences, and general declarative sentences in native Chinese speakers. We found similar brain activations for picture-active, picture-passive, and declarative sentences. However, differences in neural activation in the left inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) and posterior superior temporal gyrus (pSTG) were observed between active and passive conditions. Since the Chinese language does not require inflection of verbs when switching from active to passive sentences, it is possible that subject and object inversion led to the syntactic processing observed in the present study. These results provide evidence suggesting that different strategies are used for Chinese as compared to English for grammatical passive sentence inversions.




Feng, S., Legault, J., Yang, L., Zhu, J., Shao, K., & Yang, Y. (2015). Differences in grammatical processing strategies for active and passive sentences: An fMRI study. Journal of Neurolinguistics, 33, 104–117. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jneuroling.2014.09.002

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