You are here: Home Departments Psychology of Language Research Clusters The Representation and Computation of Structure (RepCom) group

Psychology of Language -

The Representation and Computation of Structure (RepCom) group



Andrea E. Martin (research leader)

Phillip Alday 

Hans Rutger Bosker

Antje Meyer

Fan Bai (PhD student)

Greta Kaufeld (PhD student)



Our brains turn vibrations in the air (i.e., speech) into complex meaning (i.e., linguistic structures we perceive during language comprehension). What is more, we can easily transform the complex meanings in our heads back into vibrations in the air (i.e., via language production). On top of all that, often we say and understand things that we have never heard before.

These abilities are possible because human language is compositional, a property which sets it apart from other perception-action systems in the mind and brain, but that makes language difficult to account for within contemporary models of cognition and from a biological systems perspective. We can understand and produce complex meanings through the structure of language, but we know very little about how it actually happens.

The REPCOM group moves toward unifying a basic insight from linguistic theory - that language is structured - with the currency of neural computation. The REPCOM group attempts to reconcile the powerful core properties of linguistic structure with principles from cognitive psychology, memory, network computation, and neurophysiology in order to develop a theory of how linguistic structure and meaning arises in the mind and brain and underlie both speaking and listening.




The REPCOM group is focused on developing a mechanistic theory of how linguistic structures are represented in language production and comprehension that draws on neurophysiological principles of computation. Few contemporary theories and models of language processing attempt to explain phenomena in both production and comprehension, and fewer still focus on mechanistic models that have neurophysiological and neurobiological plausibility.

In the REPCOM group, we ask questions like:

(a)    How do we generate the higher-level structures (e.g., phrases and sentences) from components parts (e.g., morphemes and words)?

(b)   Which of the mental representations and processing mechanisms that carry out (a) are common to production and comprehension? Which are distinct?

(c)    Can the mechanisms involved in language processing be accounted for or decomposed into generalized sub-routines? How might these be realized in a neurophysiological system?

(d)   How do finite neural systems like brains achieve the limitless expressive power of human language?

(e)    How can we better link neural oscillations to speech and language to the representations that seem to underlie production and comprehension?



The specific research projects within the RepCom group are:

How are abstract linguistic units (lexical, grammatical, and semantic knowledge) encoded in brain rhythms during spoken language comprehension?

Greta Kaufeld (PhD student), Hans Rutger Bosker, Andrea E. Martin

How do sensory (bottom-up, exogenous) and knowledge-related (top-down, endogenous) signals integrate and tradeoff during language processing?

Hans Rutger Bosker, Andrea E. Martin

How do the 'building blocks' of abstract linguistic units (e.g., lexical and prosodic stress) bootstrap higher-level linguistic structures in brain rhythms?

Phillip Alday, Andrea E. Martin

How are the units of meaning assembled for production and comprehension? What role does statistical learning play?

Fan Bai (PhD student), Andrea E. Martin, Antje Meyer

What properties are necessary for theories and models to compute the kinds of structures language requires? How can these systems be realized in the mind and brain?

Andrea E. Martin

Can a single computational architecture account for the similarities and differences between speaking and listening? What mechanisms and representations are core in each modality and which differ?

Andrea E. Martin, Antje Meyer



The REPCOM group develops cutting-edge methods and employs them as a function of the question at stake. We primarily use behavioural measures (reaction times, judgments, and eye-movements), computational modelling, and electrophysiology (magnetoencephalography (MEG) and electroencephalography (EEG)) to understand how neural oscillations might underlie both speaking and listening and, specifically, how oscillations might encode the structures and meanings discussed above.


External collaborators:

Jonathan R. Brennan (University of Michigan)

Leonidas A. A. Doumas (University of Edinburgh)

Patrick Sturt (University of Edinburgh)


Former members:

Wibke Naumann (BA intern), Anna Ravenschlag (MA intern), Sarah von Grebmer zu Wolfsthurn (MA intern)



Last checked 2018-10-24 by Andrea Martin
Psychology of Language

Street address

Wundtlaan 1
6525 XD Nijmegen
The Netherlands

Mailing address
P.O. Box 310
6500 AH Nijmegen
The Netherlands

Phone:  +31-24-3521336
Fax:      +31-24-3521213


Director: Antje Meyer