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Octuber 22, 2007 - Neuroanatomical distinctions within the semantic system during sentence comprehension: evidence from functional magnetic resonance imaging. To make sense of a sentence, we must compute morphosyntactic and semantic-thematic relationships between its verbs and arguments and evaluate the resulting propositional meaning against any preceding context and our real-world knowledge. Recent electrophysiological studies suggest that, in comparison with non-violated verbs (e.g. " breakfast the boys would eat..."), animacy semantic-thematically violated verbs (e.g. " breakfast the eggs would eat...") and morphosyntactically violated verbs (e.g. " breakfast the boys would eats...") evoke a similar neural response. This response is distinct from that evoked by verbs that only violate real-world knowledge (e.g. " breakfast the boys would plant..."). Here we used fMRI to examine the neuroanatomical regions engaged in response to these three violations. Real-world violations, relative to other sentence types, led to increased activity within the left anterior inferior frontal cortex, reflecting participants' increased and prolonged efforts to retrieve semantic knowledge about the likelihood of events occurring in the real world. In contrast, animacy semantic-thematic violations of the actions depicted by the central verbs engaged a frontal/inferior parietal/basal ganglia network known to mediate the execution and comprehension of goal-directed action. We suggest that the recruitment of this network reflected a semantic-thematic combinatorial process that involved an attempt to determine whether the actions described by the verbs could be executed by their NP Agents. Intriguingly, this network was also activated to morphosyntactic violations between the verbs and their subject NP arguments. Our findings support the pattern of electrophysiological findings in suggesting (a) that a clear division within the semantic system plays out during sentence comprehension, and (b) that semantic-thematic and syntactic violations of verbs within simple active sentences are treated similarly by the brain. N

December 2007 - The effect of word learning on the perception of non-native consonant sequences. Previous research in cross-language perception has shown that non-native listeners often assimilate both single phonemes and phonotactic sequences to native language categories. This study examined whether associating meaning with words containing non-native phonotactics assists listeners in distinguishing the non-native sequences from native ones. In the first experiment, American English listeners learned word-picture pairings including words that contained a phonological contrast between CC and CVC sequences, but which were not minimal pairs (e.g., [ftake], [ftalu]). In the second experiment, the word-picture pairings specifically consisted of minimal pairs (e.g., [ftake], [ftake]). Results showed that the ability to learn non-native CC was significantly improved when listeners learned minimal pairs as opposed to phonological contrast alone. Subsequent investigation of individual listeners revealed that there are both high and low performing participants, where the high performers were much more capable of learning the contrast between native and non-native words. Implications of these findings for second language lexical representations and loanword adaptation are discussed. JASA

December 2007 - Support for hybrid models of the age of acquisition of English nouns. Age of acquisition (AoA) is a psycholinguistic construct that refers to the chronological age at which a given word is acquired. Contemporary theories of AoA have focused on lexical acquisition with respect to either the developing phonological or semantic systems. One way of testing the relative dominance of phonological or semantic contributions is through open-source psycholinguistic databases, whereby AoA may be correlated with other variables (e.g., morphology, semantics, phonology). We report two multiple regression analyses conducted on a corpus of English nouns with, respectively, subjective and objective AoA measures as the dependent variables and a combination of 10 predictors, including 2 semantic, 4 phonological, 2 morphological, and 2 lexical. This multivariate combination of predictors accounted for significant proportions of the variance ofAoA in both analyses. We argue that this evidence supports hybrid models of language development that integrate multiple levels of processing-from sound to meaning. PVR.