The neurobiological nature of syntactic hierarchies

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Abstract

The review focuses on the neurobiological literature concerning the specific human ability to process linguistic hierarchies. First, we will discuss current ethological studies dedicated to the comparison between human and non-human animals for the processing of different grammar types. We will inspect the functional neuroanatomical structures of human and non-human primates more closely, including human developmental data, thereby suggesting interesting phylogenetic and ontogenetic differences. We then examine the neural reality of the Merge computation, being the most fundamental mechanism regulating natural language syntax, and offer new evidence for a possible localization of Merge in the most ventral anterior portion of BA 44. We conclude that BA 44, with its strong neural connection to the posterior temporal cortex, provides a recent evolutionary neurobiological basis for the unique human faculty of language.

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