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The cognitive neuroscience of syntactic structure building

Researchers

  • Cas Coopmans - PhD Student - Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Centre for Language Studies, Radboud University
  • Dr Andrea E. Martin - Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, Radboud University
  • Prof. Helen de Hoop - Centre for Language Studies, Radboud University
  • Prof. Peter Hagoort -  Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, Radboud University

Time frame

September 2018 - September 2022

Project description

The syntactic rules of natural languages are structure dependent. This means that they are based on the abstract hierarchical structure of groups of words, rather than the linear order of the words themselves. The meaning of a sentence is based on the way in which these words are grouped into constituents (this explains, for instance, why phrases such as "the deep blue sea" are ambiguous). The hierarchical nature of syntax is all the more intriguing if you realise that we speak in a linear, word-by-word fashion. How is it possible that there is a hierarchy in syntax when there is no hierarchy in the speech input that reaches our ears? It must be that our brains internally construct these hierarchical representations during language comprehension.

In my project, I use both behavioral and neuroscientific methods (EEG, MEG) in order to study how we infer hierarchically structured (syntactic) representations from linearly structured, word-by-word language input. My ultimate aim is to use the results of these psycholinguistic experiments to inform theoretical debates about the nature of syntactic representations, thereby helping to bridge the divide between linguistics and psycholinguistics.

Keywords

Syntax, hierarchical structure, cognitive neuroscience, EEG, MEG

Results

Coopmans, C. W., De Hoop, H., Kaushik, K., Hagoort, P., & Martin, A. E. (2021). Structure-(in)dependent interpretation of phrases in humans and LSTMs. In Proceedings of the Society for Computation in Linguistics (SCiL 2021) (pp. 459-463).

Financier

IMPRS for Language Sciences

Partners

  • Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics
  • Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, Radboud University

Contact

Cas Coopmans, cas.coopmans@mpi.nl