Rules from words: A dynamic neural basis for a lawful linguistic process

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Listeners show a reliable bias towards interpreting speech sounds in a way that conforms to linguistic restrictions (phonotactic constraints) on the permissible patterning of speech sounds in a language. This perceptual bias may enforce and strengthen the systematicity that is the hallmark of phonological representation. Using Granger causality analysis of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)- constrained magnetoencephalography (MEG) and electroencephalography (EEG) data, we tested the differential predictions of rule-based, frequency-based, and top-down lexical influence-driven explanations of processes that produce phonotactic biases in phoneme categorization. Consistent with the top-down lexical influence account, brain regions associated with the representation of words had a stronger influence on acoustic-phonetic regions in trials that led to the identification of phonotactically legal (versus illegal) word-initial consonant clusters. Regions associated with the application of linguistic rules had no such effect. Similarly, high frequency phoneme clusters failed to produce stronger feedforward influences by acoustic-phonetic regions on areas associated with higher linguistic representation. These results suggest that top-down lexical influences contribute to the systematicity of phonological representation.




Gow, D. W., & Nied, A. C. (2014). Rules from words: A dynamic neural basis for a lawful linguistic process. PLoS ONE, 9(1).

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