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A neuronal gamma oscillatory signature during morphological unification in the left occipito-temporal junction


Hagoort,  Peter
Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, External Organizations;
Neurobiology of Language Department, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;

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Levy, J., Hagoort, P., & Demonet, J.-F. (2014). A neuronal gamma oscillatory signature during morphological unification in the left occipito-temporal junction. Poster presented at the Sixth Annual Meeting of the Society for the Neurobiology of Language (SNL 2014), Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-002B-9C63-9
Morphology is the aspect of language concerned with the internal structure of words. In the past decades, a large body of masked priming (behavioral and neuroimaging) data has suggested that the visual word recognition system automatically decomposes any morphologically complex word into a stem and its constituent morphemes. Yet, it remains equivocal whether this morphemic decomposition relies primarily on orthography or on semantics. Here, we approached the issue straightforwardly by applying a task of morphological unification, that is, by assembling internal (morphemic) units into a whole-word. Morphemic units were sequentially presented while participants were requested to judge whether their assemblage represented real- or pseudo-words. Trials representing real words were divided into words with a transparent (true) or a non-transparent (pseudo) morphological relationship. Morphological unification of truly suffixed words occurred in a more straightforward way (shorter RT and higher accuracy). Additionally, oscillatory brain activity was monitored with magnetoencephalography and revealed that real, compared to pseudo morphological unification enhanced narrow gamma band oscillations (60-85 Hz, 300-450 ms) in the left posterior occipitotemporal junction, which is known as a cerebral hub for visual word processing. This neural signature could not be explained by a mere automatic lexical processing (i.e. stem perception), but more likely it related to a semantic access step during the morphological unification process. These findings highlight a plausible retrieval of lexical semantic associations for enabling true morphological unification, and further instantiate the pivotal role of the left occipito-temporal junction in visual word form processing.