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How Electrophysiological Rhythms Shape Language

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact John Mollon.

The host for this talk is Kanad Mandke

The many roles of periodic electrophysiological activity—so-called neural oscillations—for auditory and linguistic processing are being widely investigated. Oscillatory cycles are thought to provide processing time windows for acoustic and abstract units. Most work has studied such functions in response to speech, that is, driven by acoustic or abstract cues available from the stimulus. My presentation inverts this perspective, showing how oscillations shape comprehension, acquisition, and language as such from the inside out. First, I discuss evidence for an endogenous role of slow-frequency oscillations in the formation of multi-word chunks during auditory comprehension and reading. Second, I show that the neural rhythm of chunking may be reflected in the temporal architecture of prosody and syntax across the world’s languages. Third, I present cross-sectional electrophysiological results that suggest a tight relationship between the ontogenetic maturation of electrophysiology—from slow to fast—and the parallel refinement of the temporal resolution of acoustic–phonological processing. I sum, I argue that neural oscillations pose an electrophysiological bottleneck for language acquisition, comprehension and language as a cultural system.

This talk is part of the Zangwill Club series.

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