There are at least 7,000 languages spoken by humans around the globe. Furthermore, each human brain consists of a network of about 86 billion neurons. How do human brains comprehend and generate sentences? This is the driving question underlying research at the Dwivedi Brain and Language Lab.
While it is clear that neurons communicate with each other via electrical signals, it is as yet unclear what the essential nature of the linguistic stimuli must be in order to induce these signals.
For example, fundamental questions include: Does the brain respond to grammatical structure in sentences alone? Is sentence processing solely reliant on pattern recognition, or does the process involve a combination of these models?
In order to properly understand how human beings are able to understand sentences, an integrated analysis is required that combines theories from linguistics, neuroscience, and psychology.
However, many psycholinguists rely on grammatical theory and frequently ignore/underestimate brain function in explaining language comprehension, whereas neuroscientists and psychologists often ignore and/or underestimate the role that the grammar plays in understanding language.
As a result, incomplete and in many instances, disparate views of language comprehension have emerged.
In the Dwivedi Brain and Language lab, we integrate sophisticated linguistic theory with the latest advances in neuroscientific methods in order to build a model of sentence comprehension that can more accurately predict how language is processed in real-time.
We are concerned with the computation of meaning, and how this computation is affected by both linguistic and non-linguistic (e.g., emotion, attention, working memory) systems in the brain. We are currently developing a model which tests how and when grammatical structure plays a role in sentence comprehension.
A foundational understanding of the brain and language interface should result in a better understanding of how the ability to understand language changes over the lifespan—from babies learning how to talk, to young adults with a fully developed ‘linguistic system’, to older adults exhibiting limited working memory capacities.
Furthermore, we project that a long term outcome of our research will result in improved diagnoses for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s Disease and for disorders such as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).