Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
January 2020, Vol. 32, No. 1, Pages 36-49
© 2019 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Syntactic and Semantic Specialization and Integration in 5- to 6-Year-Old Children during Auditory Sentence Processing
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Previous studies have found specialized syntactic and semantic processes in the adult brain during language comprehension. Young children have sophisticated semantic and syntactic aspects of language, yet many previous fMRI studies failed to detect this specialization, possibly due to experimental design and analytical methods. In this current study, 5- to 6-year-old children completed a syntactic task and a semantic task to dissociate these two processes. Multivoxel pattern analysis was used to examine the correlation of patterns within a task (between runs) or across tasks. We found that the left middle temporal gyrus showed more similar patterns within the semantic task compared with across tasks, whereas there was no difference in the correlation within the syntactic task compared with across tasks, suggesting its specialization in semantic processing. Moreover, the left superior temporal gyrus showed more similar patterns within both the semantic task and the syntactic task as compared with across tasks, suggesting its role in integration of semantic and syntactic information. In contrast to the temporal lobe, we did not find specialization or integration effects in either the opercular or triangular part of the inferior frontal gyrus. Overall, our study showed that 5- to 6-year-old children have already developed specialization and integration in the temporal lobe, but not in the frontal lobe, consistent with developmental neurocognitive models of language comprehension in typically developing young children.