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Front Hum Neurosci. 2018 Jan 31;12:18. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2018.00018. eCollection 2018.

Sleep-Dependent Memory Consolidation and Incremental Sentence Comprehension: Computational Dependencies during Language Learning as Revealed by Neuronal Oscillations.

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Centre for Cognitive and Systems Neuroscience, School of Psychology, Social Work and Social Policy, University of South Australia, Adelaide, SA, Australia.
Sleep and Chronobiology Laboratory, School of Psychology, Social Work and Social Policy, University of South Australia, Adelaide, SA, Australia.
Department of Psychology, University of York, York, United Kingdom.


We hypothesize a beneficial influence of sleep on the consolidation of the combinatorial mechanisms underlying incremental sentence comprehension. These predictions are grounded in recent work examining the effect of sleep on the consolidation of linguistic information, which demonstrate that sleep-dependent neurophysiological activity consolidates the meaning of novel words and simple grammatical rules. However, the sleep-dependent consolidation of sentence-level combinatorics has not been studied to date. Here, we propose that dissociable aspects of sleep neurophysiology consolidate two different types of combinatory mechanisms in human language: sequence-based (order-sensitive) and dependency-based (order-insensitive) combinatorics. The distinction between the two types of combinatorics is motivated both by cross-linguistic considerations and the neurobiological underpinnings of human language. Unifying this perspective with principles of sleep-dependent memory consolidation, we posit that a function of sleep is to optimize the consolidation of sequence-based knowledge (the when) and the establishment of semantic schemas of unordered items (the what) that underpin cross-linguistic variations in sentence comprehension. This hypothesis builds on the proposal that sleep is involved in the construction of predictive codes, a unified principle of brain function that supports incremental sentence comprehension. Finally, we discuss neurophysiological measures (EEG/MEG) that could be used to test these claims, such as the quantification of neuronal oscillations, which reflect basic mechanisms of information processing in the brain.


language learning; neuronal oscillations; predictive coding; sentence comprehension; sleep and memory

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