Research Topic

Morphologically Complex Words in the Mind/Brain

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The question of how morphologically complex words (assign-ment, listen-ed) are represented and processed in the brain has been one of the most hotly debated topics in the cognitive neuroscience of language. Do complex words have cortical representations and involve brain processes equivalent to single lexical ...

The question of how morphologically complex words (assign-ment, listen-ed) are represented and processed in the brain has been one of the most hotly debated topics in the cognitive neuroscience of language. Do complex words have cortical representations and involve brain processes equivalent to single lexical objects or are they processed as sequences of separate morpheme-like units? Research on morphological processing has shown that adults make efficient use of both lexical (i.e., word-specific) storage/retrieval and grammatical (rule-like) computation for processing morphologically complex words. Psycholinguistic research has demonstrated that processing and representation of complex words is affected by properties of the morphemes involved, such as their frequency, transparency, and regularity. It has also been suggested that complex words undergo an initial obligatory morphological decomposition mechanism that segments them into their constituent morphemes (e.g. assign+ment) and subsequent semantic and syntactic integration. This mechanism of morphological decomposition has been shown to be reflected in increased left-hemispheric activation of inferior frontal and superior temporal areas and larger negative-going event-related potentials.
Whilst most previous research has been done on the recognition of morphologically complex words in mature native speakers, much less is known on neurocognitive processes involved in the on-line production of morphologically complex words, and even less on morphological processing in children and non-native speakers. Moreover, current knowledge of how linguistically distinct kinds morphological processes, e.g. inflectional (listen-ed) versus derivational (assign-ment) processes, are handled by cortical language networks is rather limited.
The aim of this Frontiers Research Topic is to provide a forum for researchers to contribute investigations employing behavioural, electrophysiological, neuroimaging, and virtual lesioning techniques. We also welcome submission of review articles and methods papers.


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