Prof. Liina Pylkkänen

Office hours by appointment

Course description

A large literature on the neurobiology of language addresses the neural instantiation of syntax. Syntax is however extremely difficult to manipulate without semantic confounds nor is it easy to come up with purely syntactic continuous variables for regression designs. Given this – typically underappreciated – concern, what have we learned from this literature? In this seminar we will dissect the most recent literature on the neurobiology of syntax and brainstorm about how one should best study the brain basis of syntax. Course projects can be experimental if the participant already has prior experience with MEG (only brain experiments with MEG will be supported) and theoretical/conceptual/reviews if not.

Prerequisite: Neurolinguistics (LING-GA.2710-001 / PSYCH-GA.3405-001) or equivalent (see e.g. 2016 syllabus)


List of readings (likely to evolve)

NOTE: You must access most of these links from the NYU network.
  • Armeni, K., Willems, R. M., & Frank, S. (2017). Probabilistic language models in cognitive neuroscience: promises and pitfalls. bioRxiv, 168161.
  • Bozic, M., Fonteneau, E., Su, L., & Marslen‐Wilson, W. D. (2015). Grammatical analysis as a distributed neurobiological function. Human Brain Mapping, 36(3), 1190–1201. doi:10.1002/hbm.22696
  • Brennan, J. R., Stabler, E. P. Jr., Van Wagenen, S. E., Luh, W.-M., & Hale, J. (2016). Abstract Linguistic Structure Correlates with Temporal Activity during Naturalistic Comprehension. Brain and Language, 157-158: 81-94 doi: 10.1016/j.bandl.2016.04.008
  • Brennan, J. R. & Pylkkänen, L. (2017). MEG evidence for incremental sentence composition in the anterior temporal lobe. Cognitive Science, 41(S6): 1515-1531. doi:10.1111/cogs.12445
  • Brodbeck, C., Presacco, A., & Simon, J. Z. (2017). Neural source dynamics of brain responses to continuous stimuli: speech processing from acoustics to comprehension. bioRxiv, 182881.
  • Corina, D. P., Gibson, E. K., Martin, R., Poliakov, A., Brinkley, J., & Ojemann, G. A. (2005). Dissociation of action and object naming: evidence from cortical stimulation mapping. Human Brain Mapping, 24(1), 1–10. doi:10.1002/hbm.20063
  • Ding, N., Melloni, L., Zhang, H., Tian, X., & Poeppel, D. (2016). Cortical tracking of hierarchical linguistic structures in connected speech. Nature Neuroscience, 19(1), 158. doi:10.1038/nn.4186
  • Fedorenko, E., Scott, T. L., Brunner, P., Coon, W. G., Pritchett, B., Schalk, G., & Kanwisher, N. (2016). Neural correlate of the construction of sentence meaning. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(41), E6256-E6262. doi:10.1073/pnas.1612132113
  • Frankland, S. M., & Greene, J. D. (2015). An architecture for encoding sentence meaning in left mid-superior temporal cortex. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112(37), 11732–11737. doi:10.1073/pnas.1421236112
  • Friederici, A. D., Chomsky, N., Berwick, R. C., Moro, A. & Bolhuis, J. J. (2017). Language, mind and brain. Nature Human Behaviour, 113(41), E6256-E6262. doi:10.1038/s41562-017-0184-4
  • Goucha, T., & Friederici, A. D. (2015). The language skeleton after dissecting meaning: a functional segregation within Broca's Area. Neuroimage, 114,
  • Havas, V., Gabarrós, A., Juncadella, M., Rifa-Ros, X., Plans, G., Acebes, J. J., ... Rodríguez-Fornells, A. (2015). Electrical stimulation mapping of nouns and verbs in Broca’s area. Brain and Language, 145, 53–63. doi:10.1016/j.bandl.2015.04.005
  • Kielar, A., Panamsky, L., Links, K. A., & Meltzer, J. A. (2015). Localization of electrophysiological responses to semantic and syntactic anomalies in language comprehension with MEG. Neuroimage, 105, 507–524. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2014.11.016
  • Li, J., & Hale, J. Grammatical Predictors for fMRI Timecourses [PDF]
  • Lopopolo, A., Frank, S. L., Van den Bosch, A., & Willems, R. M. (2017). Using stochastic language models (SLM) to map lexical, syntactic, and phonological information processing in the brain. PloS one, 12(5), e0177794.
  • Matchin, W. G. (2017). A neuronal retuning hypothesis of sentence-specificity in Broca’s area Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, doi:10.3758/s13423-017-1377-6
  • Matchin, W. G., Hammerly, C., & Lau, E. (2017). The role of the IFG and pSTS in syntactic prediction: Evidence from a parametric study of hierarchical structure in fMRI. Cortex, 88, 106-123. doi:10.1016/j.cortex.2016.12.010
  • Nelson, M. J., El Karoui, I., Giber, K., Yang, X., Cohen, L., Koopman, H., ... Pallier, C. (2017). Neurophysiological dynamics of phrase-structure building during sentence processing. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 201701590. doi:10.1073/pnas.1701590114
  • Pallier, C., Devauchelle, A. D., & Dehaene, S. (2011). Cortical representation of the constituent structure of sentences. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(6), 2522-2527. 10.1073/pnas.1018711108
  • Piai, V., Anderson, K. L., Lin, J. J., Dewar, C., Parvizi, J., Dronkers, N. F., & Knight, R. T. (2016). Direct brain recordings reveal hippocampal rhythm underpinnings of language processing. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 201603312. doi:10.1073/pnas.1603312113
  • Pillay, S. B., Binder, J. R., Humphries, C., Gross, W. L., & Book, D. S. (2017). Lesion localization of speech comprehension deficits in chronic aphasia. Neurology, 88(10), 970–975. doi:10.1212/WNL.0000000000003705
  • Pylkkänen, L. (2015). Composition of Complex Meaning: Interdisciplinary perspectives on the left anterior temporal lobe. In G. Hickok & S. Small (Eds.), Neurobiology of Language, 1st Edition. NY: Elsevier. [PDF]
  • Rogalsky, C., Almeida, D., Sprouse, J., & Hickok, G. (2015). Sentence processing selectivity in Broca’s area: evident for structure but not syntactic movement. Language, Cognition and Neuroscience, 30(10), 1326–1338. doi:10.1080/23273798.2015.1066831
  • Rogalsky, C., LaCroix, A. N., Chen, K-H, Anderson, S. W., Damasio, H., Love, T. Hickok, G. (2017). The neurobiology of agrammatic sentence comprehension: a lesion study. bioRxiv . doi:10.1101/192245.
  • Schell, M., Zaccarella, E., Friederici, A. D., (2017). Differential cortical contribution of syntax and semantics: An fMRI study on two-word phrasal processing. Cortex.
  • Sprouse, J., & Hornstein, N. (2015). Syntax and the Cognitive Neuroscience of Syntactic Structure Building. In G. Hickok & S. L. Small (Eds.), Neurobiology of Language (165-174). Elsevier. [pdf] (ask Liina for password)
  • Teichmann, M., Rosso, C., Martini, J., Bloch, I., Brugières, P., Duffau, H., ... Bachoud‐Lévi, A. (2015). A cortical–subcortical syntax pathway linking Broca’s area and the striatum. Human Brain Mapping, 36(6), 2270–2283. doi:10.1002/hbm.22769
  • Williams, A., Reddigari, S., & Pylkkänen, L. (2017). Early sensitivity of left perisylvian cortex to relationality in nouns and verbs. Neuropsychologia, 100, 131-143.
  • Yang, Y.-H., Marslen-Wilson, W. D., & Bozic, M. (2017). Syntactic Complexity and Frequency in the Neurocognitive Language System. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience. doi:10.1162/jocn_a_01137
  • Zaccarella, E., Schell, M., & Friederici, A. D. (2017). Reviewing the functional basis of the syntactic Merge mechanism for language: A coordinate-based activation likelihood estimation meta-analysis. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews,