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Concept: Grammar


The effects of selectively different experience of eye contact and gaze behaviour on the early development of five sighted infants of blind parents were investigated. Infants were assessed longitudinally at 6-10, 12-15 and 24-47 months. Face scanning and gaze following were assessed using eye tracking. In addition, established measures of autistic-like behaviours and standardized tests of cognitive, motor and linguistic development, as well as observations of naturalistic parent-child interaction were collected. These data were compared with those obtained from a larger group of sighted infants of sighted parents. Infants with blind parents did not show an overall decrease in eye contact or gaze following when they observed sighted adults on video or in live interactions, nor did they show any autistic-like behaviours. However, they directed their own eye gaze somewhat less frequently towards their blind mothers and also showed improved performance in visual memory and attention at younger ages. Being reared with significantly reduced experience of eye contact and gaze behaviour does not preclude sighted infants from developing typical gaze processing and other social-communication skills. Indeed, the need to switch between different types of communication strategy may actually enhance other skills during development.

Concepts: Psychology, Memory, Eye, Visual perception, Grammar, Communication, Nonverbal communication, Nonviolent Communication


Extensive research shows that inter-talker variability (i.e., changing the talker) affects recognition memory for speech signals. However, relatively little is known about the consequences of intra-talker variability (i.e. changes in speaking style within a talker) on the encoding of speech signals in memory. It is well established that speakers can modulate the characteristics of their own speech and produce a listener-oriented, intelligibility-enhancing speaking style in response to communication demands (e.g., when speaking to listeners with hearing impairment or non-native speakers of the language). Here we conducted two experiments to examine the role of speaking style variation in spoken language processing. First, we examined the extent to which clear speech provided benefits in challenging listening environments (i.e. speech-in-noise). Second, we compared recognition memory for sentences produced in conversational and clear speaking styles. In both experiments, semantically normal and anomalous sentences were included to investigate the role of higher-level linguistic information in the processing of speaking style variability. The results show that acoustic-phonetic modifications implemented in listener-oriented speech lead to improved speech recognition in challenging listening conditions and, crucially, to a substantial enhancement in recognition memory for sentences.

Concepts: Linguistics, Language, Grammar, Audiogram, Hearing, Speech recognition, Speech, Speech processing


The Food Choice Questionnaire (FCQ) assesses the importance that subjects attribute to nine factors related to food choices: health, mood, convenience, sensory appeal, natural content, price, weight control, familiarity and ethical concern. This study sought to assess the applicability of the FCQ in Brazil; it describes the translation and cultural adaptation from English into Portuguese of the FCQ via the following steps: independent translations, consensus, back-translation, evaluation by a committee of experts, semantic validation and pre-test. The pre-test was run with a randomly sampled group of 86 male and female college students from different courses with a median age of 19. Slight differences between the versions were observed and adjustments were made. After minor changes in the translation process, the committee of experts considered that the Brazilian Portuguese version was semantically and conceptually equivalent to the English original. Semantic validation showed that the questionnaire is easily understood. The instrument presented a high degree of internal consistency. The study is the first stage in the process of validating an instrument, which consists of face and content validity. Further stages, already underway, are needed before other researchers can use it.

Concepts: Psychometrics, Language, Grammar, Semantics, Free will, Brazil, Translation, Portuguese language


There would be little adaptive value in a complex communication system like human language if there were no ways to detect and correct problems. A systematic comparison of conversation in a broad sample of the world’s languages reveals a universal system for the real-time resolution of frequent breakdowns in communication. In a sample of 12 languages of 8 language families of varied typological profiles we find a system of ‘other-initiated repair’, where the recipient of an unclear message can signal trouble and the sender can repair the original message. We find that this system is frequently used (on average about once per 1.4 minutes in any language), and that it has detailed common properties, contrary to assumptions of radical cultural variation. Unrelated languages share the same three functionally distinct types of repair initiator for signalling problems and use them in the same kinds of contexts. People prefer to choose the type that is the most specific possible, a principle that minimizes cost both for the sender being asked to fix the problem and for the dyad as a social unit. Disruption to the conversation is kept to a minimum, with the two-utterance repair sequence being on average no longer that the single utterance which is being fixed. The findings, controlled for historical relationships, situation types and other dependencies, reveal the fundamentally cooperative nature of human communication and offer support for the pragmatic universals hypothesis: while languages may vary in the organization of grammar and meaning, key systems of language use may be largely similar across cultural groups. They also provide a fresh perspective on controversies about the core properties of language, by revealing a common infrastructure for social interaction which may be the universal bedrock upon which linguistic diversity rests.

Concepts: Sociology, Linguistics, Language, Grammar, Semiotics, Type, Reason, Language family


Understanding how and why language subsystems differ in their evolutionary dynamics is a fundamental question for historical and comparative linguistics. One key dynamic is the rate of language change. While it is commonly thought that the rapid rate of change hampers the reconstruction of deep language relationships beyond 6,000-10,000 y, there are suggestions that grammatical structures might retain more signal over time than other subsystems, such as basic vocabulary. In this study, we use a Dirichlet process mixture model to infer the rates of change in lexical and grammatical data from 81 Austronesian languages. We show that, on average, most grammatical features actually change faster than items of basic vocabulary. The grammatical data show less schismogenesis, higher rates of homoplasy, and more bursts of contact-induced change than the basic vocabulary data. However, there is a core of grammatical and lexical features that are highly stable. These findings suggest that different subsystems of language have differing dynamics and that careful, nuanced models of language change will be needed to extract deeper signal from the noise of parallel evolution, areal readaptation, and contact.

Concepts: Evolutionary biology, Linguistics, Language, Grammar, Semantics, Historical linguistics, Language family, Parallel evolution


Assessment of consulting skills using simulated patients is widespread in medical education. Most research into such assessment is sited in a statistical paradigm that focuses on psychometric properties or replicability of such tests. Equally important, but less researched, is the question of how far consultations with simulated patients reflect real clinical encounters - for which sociolinguistics, defined as the study of language in its socio-cultural context, provides a helpful analytic lens.

Concepts: Scientific method, Physician, Philosophy of language, Educational psychology, Psychometrics, Linguistics, Grammar, Social research


Prior work decoding linguistic meaning from imaging data has been largely limited to concrete nouns, using similar stimuli for training and testing, from a relatively small number of semantic categories. Here we present a new approach for building a brain decoding system in which words and sentences are represented as vectors in a semantic space constructed from massive text corpora. By efficiently sampling this space to select training stimuli shown to subjects, we maximize the ability to generalize to new meanings from limited imaging data. To validate this approach, we train the system on imaging data of individual concepts, and show it can decode semantic vector representations from imaging data of sentences about a wide variety of both concrete and abstract topics from two separate datasets. These decoded representations are sufficiently detailed to distinguish even semantically similar sentences, and to capture the similarity structure of meaning relationships between sentences.

Concepts: Linguistics, Language, Grammar, Ontology, Semantics, Metaphysics, Semiotics, Decoder


In this study we investigate the effect of age of acquisition (AoA) on grammatical processing in second language learners as measured by event-related brain potentials (ERPs). We compare a traditional analysis involving the calculation of averages across a certain time window of the ERP waveform, analyzed with categorical groups (early vs. late), with a generalized additive modeling analysis, which allows us to take into account the full range of variability in both AoA and time. Sixty-six Slavic advanced learners of German listened to German sentences with correct and incorrect use of non-finite verbs and grammatical gender agreement. We show that the ERP signal depends on the AoA of the learner, as well as on the regularity of the structure under investigation. For gender agreement, a gradual change in processing strategies can be shown that varies by AoA, with younger learners showing a P600 and older learners showing a posterior negativity. For verb agreement, all learners show a P600 effect, irrespective of AoA. Based on their behavioral responses in an offline grammaticality judgment task, we argue that the late learners resort to computationally less efficient processing strategies when confronted with (lexically determined) syntactic constructions different from the L1. In addition, this study highlights the insights the explicit focus on the time course of the ERP signal in our analysis framework can offer compared to the traditional analysis.

Concepts: Grammar, English language, Event-related potential, Inflection, Syntax, Grammatical number, Grammatical conjugation, Grammatical gender


Research on the mental representation of human language has convincingly shown that sign languages are structured similarly to spoken languages. However, whether the same neurobiology underlies the online construction of complex linguistic structures in sign and speech remains unknown. To investigate this question with maximally controlled stimuli, we studied the production of minimal two-word phrases in sign and speech. Signers and speakers viewed the same pictures during magnetoencephalography recording and named them with semantically identical expressions. For both signers and speakers, phrase building engaged left anterior temporal and ventromedial cortices with similar timing, despite different linguistic articulators. Thus the neurobiological similarity of sign and speech goes beyond gross measures such as lateralization: the same fronto-temporal network achieves the planning of structured linguistic expressions.

Concepts: Neuroscience, Linguistics, Sentence, Language, Grammar, Sign language, Semiotics, Natural language


Rhythm is a central characteristic of music and speech, the most important domains of human communication using acoustic signals. Here, we investigated how rhythmical patterns in music are processed in the human brain, and, in addition, evaluated the impact of musical training on rhythm processing. Using fMRI, we found that deviations from a rule-based regular rhythmic structure activated the left planum temporale together with Broca’s area and its right-hemispheric homolog across subjects, that is, a network also crucially involved in the processing of harmonic structure in music and the syntactic analysis of language. Comparing the BOLD responses to rhythmic variations between professional jazz drummers and musical laypersons, we found that only highly trained rhythmic experts show additional activity in left-hemispheric supramarginal gyrus, a higher-order region involved in processing of linguistic syntax. This suggests an additional functional recruitment of brain areas usually dedicated to complex linguistic syntax processing for the analysis of rhythmical patterns only in professional jazz drummers, who are especially trained to use rhythmical cues for communication.

Concepts: Brain, Greek loanwords, Wernicke's area, Language, Grammar, Music, Semiotics, Syntax