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Syntactic circuits: How does the brain create serial order in sentences?
Brain and Language, 71(1), 194-199
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It is necessary to spell out language mechanisms in terms of neurons. Not only to understand the brain, but also to explain language. In the last decade, important progress has been made regarding the cortical correlates of semantics. For certain word groups, there is a systematic relation between their meaning and the brain areas that light up during psychophysiological imaging experiments []. However, language is more than an assembly of words. Words or, more precisely, meaningful language units, morphemes, occur in sequences and there are virtually infinitely many such sequences. Although we know that syntactic violations have correlates in the physiological brain response, the neuronal circuitry underlying these macroscopic phenomena is not yet understood. It is important to clarify how syntactic mechanisms are realized in the brain. A necessary condition for making progress here is to systematically use basic neuroscientific facts for building theories about grammar mechanisms. Two examples are used to illustrate this point: Neurons with certain characteristics, so-called motion detectors and memory cells may be of particular relevance for the brain mechanisms of lexical categorization and syntactic memory, respectively.