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Binding language: Structuring sentences through precisely timed oscillatory mechanisms

Segaert, K., Mazaheri, A., & Hagoort, P. (2017). Binding language: Structuring sentences through precisely timed oscillatory mechanisms. European Journal of Neuroscience. Advance online publication. doi:10.1111/ejn.13816.
Syntactic binding refers to combining words into larger structures. Using EEG, we investigated the neural processes involved in syntactic binding. Participants were auditorily presented two-word sentences (i.e. pronoun and pseudoverb such as ‘I grush’, ‘she grushes’, for which syntactic binding can take place) and wordlists (i.e. two pseudoverbs such as ‘pob grush’, ‘pob grushes’, for which no binding occurs). Comparing these two conditions, we targeted syntactic binding while minimizing contributions of semantic binding and of other cognitive processes such as working memory. We found a converging pattern of results using two distinct analysis approaches: one approach using frequency bands as defined in previous literature, and one data-driven approach in which we looked at the entire range of frequencies between 3-30 Hz without the constraints of pre-defined frequency bands. In the syntactic binding (relative to the wordlist) condition, a power increase was observed in the alpha and beta frequency range shortly preceding the presentation of the target word that requires binding, which was maximal over frontal-central electrodes. Our interpretation is that these signatures reflect that language comprehenders expect the need for binding to occur. Following the presentation of the target word in a syntactic binding context (relative to the wordlist condition), an increase in alpha power maximal over a left lateralized cluster of frontal-temporal electrodes was observed. We suggest that this alpha increase relates to syntactic binding taking place. Taken together, our findings suggest that increases in alpha and beta power are reflections of distinct the neural processes underlying syntactic binding.
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The Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics is an institute of the German Max Planck Society. Our mission is to undertake basic research into the psychological,social and biological foundations of language. The goal is to understand how our minds and brains process language, how language interacts with other aspects of mind, and how we can learn languages of quite different types.

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