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Neurobiological systems for lexical representation and analysis in English

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

  • Mirjana Bozic
  • Lorraine K Tyler
  • Li Su
  • Cai Wingfield
  • William D Marslen-Wilson
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>10/2013
<mark>Journal</mark>Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Issue number10
Number of pages14
Pages (from-to)1678-1691
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date28/08/13
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Current research suggests that language comprehension engages two joint but functionally distinguishable neurobiological processes: a distributed bilateral system, which supports general perceptual and interpretative processes underpinning speech comprehension, and a left hemisphere (LH) frontotemporal system, selectively tuned to the processing of combinatorial grammatical sequences, such as regularly inflected verbs in English [Marslen-Wilson, W. D., & Tyler, L. K. Morphology, language and the brain: The decompositional substrate for language comprehension. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences, 362, 823-836, 2007]. Here we investigated how English derivationally complex words engage these systems, asking whether they selectively activate the LH system in the same way as inflections or whether they primarily engage the bilateral system that support nondecompositional access. In an fMRI study, we saw no evidence for selective activation of the LH frontotemporal system, even for highly transparent forms like bravely. Instead, a combination of univariate and multivariate analyses revealed the engagement of a distributed bilateral system, modulated by factors of perceptual complexity and semantic transparency. We discuss the implications for theories of the processing and representation of English derivational morphology and highlight the importance of neurobiological constraints in understanding these processes.