High gamma response tracks different syntactic structures in homophonous phrases

Fiorenzo Artoni, Piergiorgio d'Orio, Eleonora Catricalà, Francesca Conca, Franco Bottoni, Veronica Pelliccia, Ivana Sartori, Giorgio Lo Russo, Stefano F Cappa, Silvestro Micera, Andrea Moro

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Syntax is a species-specific component of human language combining a finite set of words in a potentially infinite number of sentences. Since words are by definition expressed by sound, factoring out syntactic information is normally impossible. Here, we circumvented this problem in a novel way by designing phrases with exactly the same acoustic content but different syntactic structures depending on the other words they occur with. In particular, we used phrases merging an article with a noun yielding a Noun Phrase (NP) or a clitic with a verb yielding a Verb Phrase (VP). We performed stereo-electroencephalographic (SEEG) recordings in epileptic patients. We measured a different electrophysiological correlates of verb phrases vs. noun phrases in multiple cortical areas in both hemispheres, including language areas and their homologous in the non-dominant hemisphere. The high gamma band activity (150-300 Hz frequency), which plays a crucial role in inter-regional cortical communications, showed a significant difference during the presentation of the homophonous phrases, depending on whether the phrase was a verb phrase or a noun phrase. Our findings contribute to the ultimate goal of a complete neural decoding of linguistic structures from the brain.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7537
JournalSci. Rep.
Volume10
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - May 5 2020

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