The ability to speak and understand language is one of humans¿ most complex faculties. It is made possible by the coordinated operation of multiple brain regions with diverse cognitive functions. Central to language processing is the mental lexicon: a store of the spoken and written forms of words and their meanings. Understanding the function and organisation of the mental lexicon has been an important focus for research in linguistics, psychology and cognitive neuroscience, but despite considerable effort s and the recent developments in brain imaging, fundamental questions concerning how words are stored in the brain remain unanswered.
Part of our ignorance is due to existing research using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) having focused on the 15% of words that are composed of a single unit. We propose two combined behavioural and fMRI experiments, which will assess the neural underpinnings of the single- and dual-route theories that are current in the cognitive literature on the recognition of complex words. We will identify specific neural processes associated with an additional processing load placed on systems involved in word recognition by manipulations of lexicality (words vs. non-words), morphological complexity (mono- vs. polymorphemic items), and root ambiguity (single-meaning vs. ambiguous roots).
These studies will provide a critical test of whether decomposed processing of complex words is functionally- and anatomically-separate from processes that interpret complex words as whole form s, as predicted by dual-route accounts of morphologically processing. This project requires a combination of the applicant's expertise in linguistics and cognitive psychology with the expertise of the host institution in fMRI research. The collaboration will provide the applicant with a unique training opportunity in the latest neuro-imaging techniques with the goal of providing timely and decisive insights into the ability of our brain to understand language.
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