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Neurophysiologic indicators of word types and serial order
1st Annual Meeting of the Society for Psychophysiological Research, Psychophysiology, 38, Suppl 1, S17
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Based on which criteria does the brain distinguish between categories of words and concepts? According to one view, the grammatical aspects of words are relevant, and grammatical and lexical categories such as content vs. function word, noun vs. verb, or article vs. pronoun are reflected in brain physiology. A competing view puts that meaning is relevant. Distinctions should therefore exist between imaginable and highly abstract words, between words referring to actions and others related to visual perceptions, and possibly even between words that refer to different types of perceptions and actions. It will be argued that there is more psychophysiological evidence for the second position, that semantics is relevant, than for the first, that grammar is being reflected: Topographies of neurophysiological responses to words may reflect aspects of the words' meanings. If the brain distinguishes between semantic word categories, one can ask at which processing stage semantic distinctions take place. It will be argued, based on recent data, that physiological indicators reflecting word categories, and even individual words, can appear early, within the first 100-200 ms after the information about the stimulus is present in the input. Aspects of a word's form and aspects of its meaning may be processed, or accessed, near-simultaneously. But when would the grammatical processes kick in? When grammatical and ungrammatical word strings were acoustically presented while subjects watched a video film, their brain responses showed early (< 200 ms latency) indicators of grammaticality, arguing in favor of early and automatic syntax processing.