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Journal Article

Rule-based and statistics-based processing of language: Insights from neuroscience


Poeppel,  David       
Department of Neuroscience, Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics, Max Planck Society;
New York University;

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Ding, N., Melloni, L., Tian, X., & Poeppel, D. (2017). Rule-based and statistics-based processing of language: Insights from neuroscience. Language, Cognition and Neuroscience, 32(5), 570-575. doi:10.1080/23273798.2016.1215477.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-002D-CEBC-8
To flexibly convey meaning, the human language faculty iteratively combines smaller units such as words into larger structures such as phrases based on grammatical principles. During comprehension, however, it remains unclear how the brain encodes the relationship between words and combines them into phrases. One hypothesis is that internal grammatical principles governing language generation are also used to parse the hierarchical syntactic structure of spoken language. An alternative hypothesis suggests, in contrast, that decoding language during comprehension solely relies on statistical relationships between words or strings of words, that is, the N-gram statistics, and no hierarchical linguistic structures are constructed. Here, we briefly review distinctions between rule-based hierarchical models and statistics-based linear string models for comprehension. Recent neurolinguistic studies show that tracking of probabilistic relationships between words is not sufficient to explain cortical encoding of linguistic constituent structure and support the involvement of rule-based processing during language comprehension.