Language & Brain Lab

語言 & 大腦研究室

at Graduate Institute of Linguistics

 National Chengchi University, Taiwan

—  Led by Yao-Ying Lai

We aim to examine the neurocognitive mechanisms of real-time language processing via an interdisciplinary and multidimensional approach, incorporating perspectives of linguistics, cognitive psychology, and neuroscience. Our research seeks to understand how the human cognitive systems and the brain work to obtain the meaning of linguistic expressions. To this end, we implement theoretically driven experimental investigations, using various behavioral & neurological techniques (e.g., questionnaires, self-paced reading, eye-tracking, fMRI), grounded on theories of linguistics and cognitive science, in order to obtain a more comprehensive picture of human language processing.  

Neurocognitive mechanisms

 of language processing

Real-time language processing engages timely computation of various kinds of linguistic information, involving syntax, semantics, phonetics-phonology, and pragmatics, grounded on the general cognitive architecture. We investigate how combinatorial meaning is computed by the cognitive mechanisms and implemented in the human brain, probing via cases of semantic composition, underspecification, and meaning enrichment that involve semantic-pragmatic processing as well as conceptual-contextual integration (Lai et al., 2017, 2020, 2023c, Lai, 2024). This line of research has been conducted cross-linguistically in English, Japanese, and Mandarin by far through international collaboration, aiming at obtaining a more comprehensive understanding of combinatorial meaning computation as language comprehension unfolds.

Neural correlates of processing underspecified combinatorial meaning

Left: the comprehension of underspecified ambiguity in English

Right: the comprehension of underspecified iterative meaning in Japanese

Meaning composition & contextualization

As language comprehension unfolds, the human processor combines individual lexical meanings into an integrated conceptual representation, given the linguistic input and context. The exact meaning of a sentence is not explicitly expressed in many cases nonetheless, calling for a conceptual-contextual evaluation of relevant information to obtain an appropriate interpretation. The computation of combinatorial meaning by linguistic cues and conceptual-contextual integration is key to successful language comprehension. We aim to explicate the fine-grained details of the linguistic representations, the cognitive mechanisms, and the neural correlates subserving the contextualization of combinatorial nontransparent meaning (Lai & Piñango, 2019; Lai & Lai, 2022; Lai et al., 2023b, Lai, Y.-Y., 2024)

Domain-general cognition & language comprehension

While human language processing exhibits general patterns common to the population cross-linguistically, individual and language-specific variations are often observed yet still not well-understood. We investigate how non-linguistic cognitive capacity, especially social cognition, factors into real-time semantic/pragmatic processing, seeking to unravel the relationship between domain-general and domain-specific computation (Lai & Lai, 2023a, Lai et al. 2023c).

“It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer.” -- Albert Einstein