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Language and action in Broca’s area: Computational differentiation and cortical segregation

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Zaccarella,  Emiliano
Department Neuropsychology, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Papitto,  Giorgio
Department Neuropsychology, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;
International Max Planck Research School on Neuroscience of Communication: Function, Structure, and Plasticity, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Friederici,  Angela D.
Department Neuropsychology, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Citation

Zaccarella, E., Papitto, G., & Friederici, A. D. (2021). Language and action in Broca’s area: Computational differentiation and cortical segregation. Brain and Cognition, 147: 105651. doi:10.1016/j.bandc.2020.105651.


Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0007-490F-8
Abstract
Actions have been proposed to follow hierarchical principles similar to those hypothesized for language syntax. These structural similarities are claimed to be reflected in the common involvement of certain neural populations of Broca’s area, in the Inferior Frontal Gyrus (IFG). In this position paper, we follow an influential hypothesis in linguistic theory to introduce the syntactic operation Merge and the corresponding motor/conceptual interfaces. We argue that actions hierarchies do not follow the same principles ruling language syntax. We propose that hierarchy in the action domain lies in predictive processing mechanisms mapping sensory inputs and statistical regularities of action-goal relationships. At the cortical level, distinct Broca’s subregions appear to support different types of computations across the two domains. We argue that anterior BA44 is a major hub for the implementation of the syntactic operation Merge. On the other hand, posterior BA44 is recruited in selecting premotor mental representations based on the information provided by contextual signals. This functional distinction is corroborated by a recent meta-analysis (Papitto, Friederici, & Zaccarella, 2020). We conclude by suggesting that action and language can meet only where the interfaces transfer abstract computations either to the external world or to the internal mental world.