Poster F69, Tuesday, March 28, 8:00 – 10:00 am, Pacific Concourse
An fMRI investigation of argument structure and syntactic selection
William Matchin1, Chia-Hsuan Liao2, Phoebe Gaston2, Ellen Lau2; 1UC San Diego, 2University of Maryland
Neuroimaging research has identified several sentence-responsive brain regions in the left hemisphere, some of which are associated primarily with syntax and others with semantics. In order to narrow down the specific functions of these regions, we performed a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study with a block design in which we compared lexically-matched verb phrases (VP; frightened the boy) and noun phrases (NP; the frightened boy). Previous research has hypothesized that the Angular Gyrus (AG) is involved in thematic or event-level processing; this hypothesis would predict that the AG would show more activation for VPs than NPs. We also tested a fundamental syntactic distinction: VPs contained two head-complement selection relations and no adjunction, while NPs contained one head-complement selection relation and one adjunction. Previous research has found increased activation in the pars triangularis of the inferior frontal gyrus (IFGtri) and the posterior superior temporal sulcus (pSTS) for syntactically hierarchical input, but has not indicated that this response is sensitive to different kinds of syntactic relations like head-complement selection vs. adjunction. Preliminary ROI analyses (N=20) found no differences in the activation between VPs and NPs in any semantic regions, including the AG, and that the pars triangularis and pSTS showed increased activation for VPs relative to NPs. These results argue against a thematic or event-level semantic function of the AG. With respect to IFGtri and pSTS, the increased activation for head-complement selection may indicate a role for syntactic prediction, as heads in English select for upcoming structure while adjuncts do not.
Topic Area: LANGUAGE: Syntax