Research in neurolinguistics examines how language is organized and processed in the human brain. The findings from neurolinguistic studies on language can inform our understanding of the basic ingredients of language and the operations they undergo. In the domain of the lexicon, a major debate concerns whether and to what extent the morpheme serves as a basic unit of linguistic representation, and in turn whether and under what circumstances the processing of morphologically complex words involves operations that identify, activate, and combine morpheme-level representations during lexical processing. Alternative models positing some role for morphemes argue that complex words are processed via morphological decomposition and composition in the general case (full-decomposition models), or only under certain circumstances (dual-route models), while other models do not posit a role for morphemes (non-morphological models), instead arguing that complex words are related to their constituents not via morphological identity, but either via associations among whole-word representations or via similarity in formal and/or semantic features. Two main approaches to investigating the role of morphemes from a neurolinguistic perspective are neuropsychology, in which complex word processing is typically investigated in cases of brain insult or neurodegenerative disease, and brain imaging, which makes it possible to examine the temporal dynamics and neuroanatomy of complex word processing as it occurs in the brain. Neurolinguistic studies on morphology have examined whether the processing of complex words involves brain mechanisms that rapidly segment the input into potential morpheme constituents, how and under what circumstances morpheme representations are accessed from the lexicon, and how morphemes are combined to form complex morphosyntactic and morpho-semantic representations. Findings from this literature broadly converge in suggesting a role for morphemes in complex word processing, although questions remain regarding the precise time course by which morphemes are activated, the extent to which morpheme access is constrained by semantic or form properties, as well as regarding the brain mechanisms by which morphemes are ultimately combined into complex representations.
Laurie Beth Feldman and Judith F. Kroll
We summarize findings from across a range of methods, including behavioral measures of overall processing speed and accuracy, electrophysiological indices that tap into the early time course of language processing, and neural measures using structural and functional imaging. We argue that traditional claims about rigid constraints on the ability of late bilinguals to exploit the meaning and form of the morphology and morphosyntax in a second language should be revised so as to move away from all or none command of structures motivated from strict dichotomies among linguistic categories of morphology. We describe how the dynamics of morphological processing in neither monolingual or bilingual speakers is easily characterized in terms of the potential to decompose words into their constituent morphemes and that morphosyntactic processing is not easily characterized in terms of categories of structures that are learnable and those that are unlearnable by bilingual and nonnative speakers. Instead, we emphasize the high degree of variability across individuals and plasticity within individuals in their ability to successfully learn and use even subtle aspects of a second language. Further, both of the bilingual’s two languages become active when even one language is engaged, and parallel activation has consequences that shape both languages, thus their influence is not in the unidirectional manner that was traditionally assumed. We briefly discuss the nature of possible constraints and directions for future research.
Niels O. Schiller
Neurolinguistic approaches to morphology include the main theories of morphological representation and processing in the human mind, such as full-listing, full-parsing, and hybrid dual-route models, and how the experimental evidence that has been acquired to support these theories uses different neurolinguistic paradigms (visual and auditory priming, violation, long-lag priming, picture-word interference, etc.) and methods (electroencephalography [EEG]/event-related brain potential [ERP], functional magnetic resonance imaging [fMRI], neuropsychology, and so forth).