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Neurosci Res. 2001 Jan;39(1):1-10.

Sentence processing in the cerebral cortex.

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Department of Cognitive and Behavioral Science, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, The University of Tokyo, Komaba, 3-8-1 Komaba, Meguro-ku, Tokyo, 153-8902, Japan.


Human language is a unique faculty of the mind. It has been the ultimate mystery throughout the history of neuroscience. Despite many aphasia and functional imaging studies, the exact correlation between cortical language areas and subcomponents of the linguistic system has not been established. One notable drawback is that most functional imaging studies have tested language tasks at the word level, such as lexical decision and word generation tasks, thereby neglecting the syntactic aspects of the language faculty. As proposed by Chomsky, the critical knowledge of language involves universal grammar (UG), which governs the syntactic structure of sentences. In this article, we will review recent advances made by functional neuroimaging studies of language, focusing especially on sentence processing in the cerebral cortex. We also present the recent results of our functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study intended to identify cortical areas specifically involved in syntactic processing. A study of sentence processing that employs a newly developed technique, optical topography (OT), is also presented. Based on these findings, we propose a modular specialization of Broca's area, Wernicke's area, and the angular gyrus/supramarginal gyrus. The current direction of research in neuroscience is beginning to establish the existence of distinct modules responsible for our knowledge of language.

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