Special Session

Special Session: Theories of Sentence Processing and the Neuroscience of Language

The cognitively based theories that are influential in psycholinguistics today are largely based on non-neural data and theoretical constructs. Theories of sentence processing are still largely based on formal linguistic models of grammar as well as cognitive models of memory, attention, and learning. Ultimately, however, given that language processing must take place in a physical structure, our goal must be to develop theories that are biologically plausible and compatible with other theories in the cognitive neurosciences. This brings us to the fundamental question we want our speakers to address in the special session: Does the basic architecture of language developed in the 1950s and 1960s based primarily on linguistic evidence, or in the 1980s and 1990s based on statistical constraint based models, survive an era of brain imaging, brain stimulation, and sophisticated cognitive neuropsychology? If not, how should we carve up the language system based on what we have learned from the entire range of relevant evidence, including linguistic, behavioral, and biological?

Our view is that now is the time to revisit the entire architecture of the language system and to ask whether the modules, architectures, and processing systems that have been assumed up to now need to be profoundly revised in light of what is known about language and the brain. The special session will bring together six prominent researchers with diverse backgrounds to consider this basic issue. All have extensive experience working on the neuroscience of language using a range of methods and techniques, all are major figures in the field of language who represent different theoretical perspectives, and all have made major contributions to the literature on language processing. Yet they all have unique and complementary expertise in the neuroscience of language, which makes them uniquely qualified to begin this challenging but important conversation.

Invited Speakers

Evelina Fedorenko Evelina Fedorenko is a research scientist in the Department of Brain & Cognitive Sciences at MIT. She seeks to understand i) the representations and computations that underlie human communicative abilities, and ii) the relationship between the language system and other cognitive/neural systems. To do so, she is adopting individual-subject MRI analysis methods that have been successful in other domains (e.g., vision), supplementing those with behavioral investigations of healthy and brain-damaged individuals and more temporally-sensitive methods like ECoG.
Julius Fridriksson Julius Fridriksson is a Professor in the Department of Communication Science and Disorders at the University of South Carolina. His research focuses on understanding speech comprehension and production in normal and disorder populations, particularly those who have suffered stroke. His research relies on technologies such as MRI and tDCS.
Peter Hagoort Peter Hagoort is director of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, the founding director of the Donders Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging (1999), and a professor in cognitive neuroscience at the Radboud University Nijmegen. His research interests relate to the domain of the human language faculty and how it is instantiated in the brain. In his research he applies neuroimaging techniques such as ERP, MEG, PET, and fMRI to investigate the language system and its impairments as in healthy adults as well as in conditions such as aphasia, dyslexia and autism.
Gina Kuperberg Gina R. Kuperberg is a Professor in the Department of Psychology at Tufts University and a Psychiatrist in the Department of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging. Her lab focuses on the cognitive neuroscience of thought and language in healthy individuals and in those with psychiatric disorders. She uses ERPs, MEG, and fMRI to study both the temporal and spatial dimensions of cognition in the brain.
Liina Pylkkänen Liina Pylkkänen is an Associate Professor of Linguistics and Psychology at New York University. Her research aims to characterize the representationl and processing properties of the combinatory system that supports linguistic creativity. Her research primarily makes use of MEG, which offers the best combinations of temporal and spatial resolution among currently available cognitive neuroscience methods.
Mark Seidenberg Mark Seidenberg is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Wisconsin, Investigator in the Communication and Cognitive Processes Unit of Waisman Center, University of Wisconsin, and Senior Scientist at Haskins Labs, New Haven, CT. Mark studies language and reading, with the goal of understanding how these skills are acquired and used, and the brain circuits that support them. The work involves a combination of behavioral studies, neuroimaging, and computational (connectionist) modeling.