How the brain solves the binding problem for language: A neurocomputational model of syntactic processing

  • Hagoort P
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Abstract

Syntax is one of the components in the architecture of language processing that allows the listener/reader to bind single-word information into a unified interpretation of multiword utterances. This paper discusses ERP effects that have been observed in relation to syntactic processing. The fact that these effects differ from the semantic N400 indicates that the brain honors the distinction between semantic and syntactic binding operations. Two models of syntactic processing attempt to account for syntax-related ERP effects. One type of model is serial, with a first phase that is purely syntactic in nature (syntax-first model). The other type of model is parallel and assumes that information immediately guides the interpretation process once it becomes available. This is referred to as the immediacy model. ERP evidence is presented in support of the latter model. Next, an explicit computational model is proposed to explain the ERP data. This Unification Model assumes that syntactic frames are stored in memory and retrieved on the basis of the spoken or written word form input. The syntactic frames associated with the individual lexical items are unified by a dynamic binding process into a structural representation that spans the whole utterance. On the basis of a meta-analysis of imaging studies on syntax, it is argued that the left posterior inferior frontal cortex is involved in binding syntactic frames together, whereas the left superior temporal cortex is involved in retrieval of the syntactic frames stored in memory. Lesion data that support the involvement of this left frontotemporal network in syntactic processing are discussed. © 2003 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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