Dr. Nai Ding’s Laboratory published a research article entitled “Cortical tracking of hierarchical linguistic structures in connected speech” in Nature Neuroscience.
There has been a long debate in psychology, linguistics, and computer sciences about whether the brain decomposes language into hierarchically nested syntactic structures during language comprehension. To illuminate this debate, Ding et al. explored whether hierarchical linguistic units are represented in the brain during speech comprehension. The subjects were given words, phrases and sentences, spoken flatly, without intonation clues. Their brain activities were monitored by magnetoencephalography, which measures tiny magnetic fields, and electrocorticography devices, which measures brain activity in patients before brain surgery.
The results show that the subjects’ brains concurrently track hierarchically organized linguistic units, e.g., syllables, phrases, and sentences, via neural oscillations on different time scales. This study provides new empirical support for the hypothesis that the brain applies online syntactic analysis during speech comprehension, as famously and initially proposed by renowned linguist Noam Chomsky.
The article was published on December 7th, 2015. The Altmetric score of the paper is in the 97th percentile (ranked 2nd) of the 85 tracked articles of a similar age in Nature Neuroscience. Dr. Nai Ding is the first and co-corresponding author of the study.
Experiment design: Sequences of Chinese or English monosyllabic words were presented isochronously, forming phrases and sentences.
Brain responses to hierarchically organized linguistic units, i.e., syllables, phrases, and sentences.
Ding, N., Melloni, L., Zhang, H., Tian, X., & Poeppel, D. (2015). Cortical tracking of hierarchical linguistic structures in connected speech. Nature neuroscience.