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Neural representations of lexical complexity

The lexicon is the product of the diachronic stratification of complex linguistic processes. Among these, morphological derivation offers a cross-linguistic relevant strategy, which, when synchronically productive, generates lexical items with new meanings, by combining existing morphemes. Yet, cross-linguistic neuroimaging literature suggested that derived words are accessed as whole forms in the bihemispheric fronto-temporal substrates supporting the semantic and pragmatic interpretation of non-combinatorial linguistic input, without requiring the left-lateralised perisylvian network specialized for grammatical analysis. In recent work using functional magnetic neuroimaging (fMRI), I re-examined these positions in the context of the combinatorially rich, root-based Italian lexicon, investigating how key linguistic coordinates, such as semantic transparency and affix productivity, affected the representational content of derived words in the language systems. The results revealed a dominant role of semantic transparency, modulated by affix productivity, in the neurocognitive encoding of derived forms. Only opaque forms showed cohort competition effects, consistent with earlier cross-linguistic evidence. However, behavioural and computational linguistic models of derivational complexity identified dissociable multivoxel representational patterns for opaquely and transparently derived words. The bilateral fronto-temporal activity associated with opaque words confirmed their non-compositional processing. At the same time, the left inferior frontal regions selectively reflected affix productivity in transparent forms, pointing to their decompositional representation. Combined univariate and novel multivoxel-pattern analyses, as performed here, are promising methods for detecting with an unprecedented detail the fine-grained representational properties of lexical complexity, which may vary across languages depending on their typological and historical characteristics.

Gehalten von

Dr. Francesca Carota




Forschungsschwerpunkt Kognitionswissenschaften

Universitäts-/ Fachbereich

Humanwissenschaftliche Fakultät


09.02.2017, 11:00 Uhr
09.02.2017, 13:00 Uhr


Potsdam Research Institute for Multilingualism


Universität Potsdam, Uni-Komplex Golm, Haus 5/ Raum 1.06
Karl-Liebknecht-Str. 24/25
14476 Golm


Judith Schlenter & Dr. Michaela Schmitz
Karl-Liebknecht-Str. 24-25
14476 Potsdam

Telefon 0331 977-2751