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Cognitive and neural underpinnings of syntactic complexity

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Abstract

Based on a review of the neuroimaging literature, I argue that the resources allocated for processing syntactically complex sentences (i.e., object-extracted relative clauses) are domain-general. Overlapping brain areas are activated by OR clauses and by effortful executive tasks, such as storing information in verbal working memory, resolving conflict among competing representations, and switching one’s mindset. A re-conceptualization of ‘syntactic complexity’ in terms of executive functions provides a useful framework in which to explore its links to relational complexity and to cognitive neuroscience, in general. As such, this approach should prove useful to linguists and cognitive scientists alike.

References

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