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Semantic processing occurs in both hemispheres

Semantic, lexical and syntactic processes appear to be carried out in partly overlapping and partly distinct brain networks. The classic left-hemispheric dominance for language is present for syntax, but not semantics, MPI researchers Laura Menenti, Katrien Segaert and Peter Hagoort demonstrate in their paper 'The neuronal infrastructure of speaking'. The study was published online in the journal Brain and Language on June 19, 2012.
Semantic processing occurs in both hemispheres

June 20, 2012

According to mainstream neuroscience, language processing occurs in the left hemisphere of our brain. Most research has focussed on language comprehension, but little is known about the brain's integrated neuronal infrastructure for speech production. Laura Menenti (MPI, Donders Institute, and University of Glasgow), Katrien Segaert (MPI and Donders Institute) and Peter Hagoort (director of both MPI and Donders Institute) investigated semantic, lexical and syntactic aspects of speaking using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI).

Both hemispheres involved

Menenti uitsnede"While much of the research on how the brain processes language has focused on how understanding happens, we have recently undertaken a series of studies on speaking", says Laura Menenti. "In our Brain and Language paper, we show that the well-known truism that the left hemisphere of the brain 'does' language needs some adaptation: while this is true for how we construct grammatical structures and sounds of words, both hemispheres are involved in coding the message of what we are going to say, which is the purpose of language."

Dominance for syntax

The researchers investigated three core aspects of speaking using fMRI imaging of the speaking brain: producing meaning, words and syntax. "We have shown that speaking relies on both areas with more specialized and with relatively global sensitivities to semantic, syntactic and lexical information. In addition, the language dominance of the left hemisphere shows up most clearly for syntax, but appears weaker for relational semantics," Menenti and her colleagues conclude in their paper.

Figure Menenti

Brain areas involved in grammatical structure (blue), words (red) and meaning (yellow). While the areas involved in producing grammatical structure and words are clearly left-lateralised, coding the intended meaning involves the same areas in both hemispheres.

Link to the publication.


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This is the MPI

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.

The institute is situated on the campus of the Radboud University. We participate in the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, and have particularly close ties to that institute's Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging. We also participate in the Centre for Language Studies. A joint graduate school, the IMPRS in Language Sciences, links the Donders Institute, the CLS and the MPI.



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