Liina Pylkkanen (NYU) will present the first department colloquium this Friday, September 29, at 3:30 in the seminar hub (ILC N400). Here’s the title and abstract:
Semantic Composition: A Brain’s Eye View
Though decades of research within formal semantics and in the psychology of concepts have characterized the nature of the complex semantic representations of natural language, this body of work has only recently begun to inform the brain science of semantic representation. In this talk I will bring together perspectives from theoretical linguistics, cognitive psychology and neuropsychology to discuss what is currently known about the brain basis of meaning composition. While differences in cognitive neuroscience techniques and experimental paradigms often result in more differences than similarities, a remarkable convergence arises from hemodynamic methods, magnetoencephalography (MEG) and neuropsychological data implicating the left anterior temporal lobe (LATL) as a core region for the construction of complex meaning. My focus will be on MEG data, on the basis of which we have characterized the timing of LATL activity in comprehension as relatively early, peaking at 200-250ms after the onset of a composing word. Progress in our understanding of the computational contribution of this activity is only beginning to gain momentum, but I will summarize an initial body of results suggesting that, crucially, the LATL supports automatic, task-insensitive composition in both comprehension and production and that its contribution is clearly semantic, as opposed to syntactic in nature.