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  • Coopmans, C. W., Mai, A., Slaats, S., Weissbart, H., & Martin, A. E. (2023). What oscillations can do for syntax depends on your theory of structure building. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 24, 723. doi:10.1038/s41583-023-00734-5.
  • Slaats, S., Weissbart, H., Schoffelen, J.-M., Meyer, A. S., & Martin, A. E. (2023). Delta-band neural responses to individual words are modulated by sentence processing. The Journal of Neuroscience, 43(26), 4867-4883. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0964-22.2023.


    To understand language, we need to recognize words and combine them into phrases and sentences. During this process, responses to the words themselves are changed. In a step towards understanding how the brain builds sentence structure, the present study concerns the neural readout of this adaptation. We ask whether low-frequency neural readouts associated with words change as a function of being in a sentence. To this end, we analyzed an MEG dataset by Schoffelen et al. (2019) of 102 human participants (51 women) listening to sentences and word lists, the latter lacking any syntactic structure and combinatorial meaning. Using temporal response functions and a cumulative model-fitting approach, we disentangled delta- and theta-band responses to lexical information (word frequency), from responses to sensory- and distributional variables. The results suggest that delta-band responses to words are affected by sentence context in time and space, over and above entropy and surprisal. In both conditions, the word frequency response spanned left temporal and posterior frontal areas; however, the response appeared later in word lists than in sentences. In addition, sentence context determined whether inferior frontal areas were responsive to lexical information. In the theta band, the amplitude was larger in the word list condition around 100 milliseconds in right frontal areas. We conclude that low-frequency responses to words are changed by sentential context. The results of this study speak to how the neural representation of words is affected by structural context, and as such provide insight into how the brain instantiates compositionality in language.
  • González Alonso, J., Alemán Bañón, J., DeLuca, V., Miller, D., Pereira Soares, S. M., Puig-Mayenco, E., Slaats, S., & Rothman, J. (2020). Event related potentials at initial exposure in third language acquisition: Implications from an artificial mini-grammar study. Journal of Neurolinguistics, 56: 100939. doi:10.1016/j.jneuroling.2020.100939.


    The present article examines the proposal that typology is a major factor guiding transfer selectivity in L3/Ln acquisition. We tested first exposure in L3/Ln using two artificial languages (ALs) lexically based in English and Spanish, focusing on gender agreement between determiners and nouns, and between nouns and adjectives. 50 L1 Spanish-L2 English speakers took part in the experiment. After receiving implicit training in one of the ALs (Mini-Spanish, N = 26; Mini-English, N = 24), gender violations elicited a fronto-lateral negativity in Mini-English in the earliest time window (200–500 ms), although this was not followed by any other differences in subsequent periods. This effect was highly localized, surfacing only in electrodes of the right-anterior region. In contrast, gender violations in Mini-Spanish elicited a broadly distributed positivity in the 300–600 ms time window. While we do not find typical indices of grammatical processing such as the P600 component, we believe that the between-groups differential appearance of the positivity for gender violations in the 300–600 ms time window reflects differential allocation of attentional resources as a function of the ALs’ lexical similarity to English or Spanish. We take these differences in attention to be precursors of the processes involved in transfer source selection in L3/Ln.

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