Dr. Emiliano Zaccarella

Dr. Emiliano Zaccarella

Group leader, Postdoc representative

Main Focus

I attempt to understand from a neurobiological perspective how the combinatorial computation of putting words together to form linguistic structures is implemented in the human brain. The fundamental role that this computation plays within language is suggested to constitute the neurobiological basis upon which linguistic complexity is itself derived. 

I use theoretical models together with functional (fMRI) and structural (sMRI/DTI) techniques to observe brain behavior at the most basic levels of structure formation, when the combinatorial computation works on two- or three-word long linguistic structures (the book, on the book). Aiming at integrating linguistic functions with neural mechanisms, the main research directions I am interested in at the moment are:

  • The identification of the grammatical sub-routines implementing the combinatorial system (labeling, merge, hierarchization, linear ordering)
  • The topographical consistency of the combinatorial computation across languages and modalities
  • The cortical and sub-cortical anatomical networks supporting the combinatorial algorithm
  • The relative individual language-specific functional localizations and connectivity profiles
  • The developmental trajectories of the computation across different linguistic families
  • The evolutive implications of the combinatorial mechanism with respect to non-human primates

Curriculum Vitae

since 2016
Max Planck Institute Leipzig, Department of Neuropsychology (Germany)

Ph.D. – Cognitive Sciences
Summa cum Laude
"Breaking down Complexity:
The Neural Basis of the Syntactic Merge Mechanism in the Human Brain"

Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Angela D. Friederici
Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Isabell Wartenburger
Max Planck Institute Leipzig, Department of Neuropsychology (Germany)
Berlin School of Mind and Brain, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (Germany)
Universität Potsdam, Department of Linguistics (Germany)

Master's Degree – Linguistics
Summa cum Laude

"Discourse-Related Features and the Status of Right-Dislocation:
A Cross-linguistic Perspective"

Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Luigi Rizzi
Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Adriana Belletti
Faculty of Philosophy and Social Sciences
Department of Communication Sciences
Università di Siena (Italy)


CISCL (Interdepartmental Center for Cognitive Studies of Language)
Università di Siena (Italy)

Parsed Corpora in Language Development and Language Processing
CHILDES (Child Language Data Exchange System)
DCPSE (Diachronic Corpus of Spoken English)
ICECUP (ICE Corpus Utility Program)

Erasmus Scholarship

Faculty of Humanities
Department of Linguistics and English Language
University of Edinburgh (United Kingdom)

Bachelor's Degree – Communication Sciences
Summa cum Laude

"Parametric Investigation in Comparative Syntax.
A case study: Chinese Speakers Acquiring the Italian Relative Clause"

Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Luigi Rizzi
Faculty of Philosophy and Social Sciences
Università di Siena (Italy)


Otto Hahn Medal 2017

Mind and Brain Scholarship, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (Germany)

Special Function:

  • Postdoc representative
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