Dr Emiliano Zaccarella | Neural, behavioral, and evolutionary aspects of the linguistic combinatorial capacity

Institutskolloquium (intern)

  • Datum: 17.01.2022
  • Uhrzeit: 15:00 - 16:00
  • Vortragende(r): Dr Emiliano Zaccarella
  • Abteilung Neuropsychologie
  • Ort: MPI für Kognitions- und Neurowissenschaften
  • Raum: Zoom Meeting
A defining feature of the human species is the ability to share complex states of affairs by combining words into an unlimited number of meaningful structures. The far-reaching goal of our group is to understand how the human brain encodes structures as word combinations across languages in healthy and clinical populations, and how this combinatorial capacity is reflected in behavior through language development and evolution. In this talk, I will present some of the most recent findings from our group tackling different aspects of this capacity. In the first part, I will exploit predictions from linguistic theory and processing models together with functional methods, to investigate network connectivity, cortical causality, modality-independence (visual/auditory vs. signed), and domain-specificity (conceptual vs. motor) of the combinatorial capacity. In this context, the highly automatic nature of word combination is reflected in the discovery that the extraction of combinatorial features during language comprehension affects behavior already at the semiconscious level and is fundamentally inhibitory. Using the two-word combinatorial level as an ideal point of contact across ontogeny and phylogeny, in the second part of the talk I will tie together issues regarding how the combinatorial capacity rapidly emerges in children's corpora, and what kind of primitive mechanisms nonhuman primates involve when combining single calls into bigram sequences, as evidenced by call production in captive chimpanzees. I will conclude the talk with a perspective on the working hypothesis for linguistic combinatorial specificity in humans.

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