Wednesday, January 16, 2008

How left inferior frontal cortex participates in syntactic processing: Evidence from aphasia

from Brain and Language

We report on three experiments that provide a real-time processing perspective on the poor comprehension of Broca’s aphasic patients for non-canonically structured sentences. In the first experiment we presented sentences (via a Cross Modal Lexical Priming (CMLP) paradigm) to Broca’s patients at a normal rate of speech. Unlike the pattern found with unimpaired control participants, we observed a general slowing of lexical activation and a concomitant delay in the formation of syntactic dependencies involving “moved” constituents and empty elements. Our second experiment presented these same sentences at a slower rate of speech. In this circumstance, Broca’s patients formed syntactic dependencies as soon as they were structurally licensed (again, a different pattern from that demonstrated by the unimpaired control group). The third experiment used a sentence-picture matching paradigm to chart Broca’s comprehension for non-canonically structured sentences (presented at both normal and slow rates). Here we observed significantly better scores in the slow rate condition. We discuss these findings in terms of the functional commitment of the left anterior cortical region implicated in Broca’s aphasia and conclude that this region is crucially involved in the formation of syntactically-governed dependency relations, not because it supports knowledge of syntactic dependencies, but rather because it supports the real-time implementation of these specific representations by sustaining, at the least, a lexical activation rise-time parameter.