Brain Activity During Speaking: From Syntax to Phonology in 40 Milliseconds

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Science  24 Apr 1998:
Vol. 280, Issue 5363, pp. 572-574
DOI: 10.1126/science.280.5363.572

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In normal conversation, speakers translate thoughts into words at high speed. To enable this speed, the retrieval of distinct types of linguistic knowledge has to be orchestrated with millisecond precision. The nature of this orchestration is still largely unknown. This report presents dynamic measures of the real-time activation of two basic types of linguistic knowledge, syntax and phonology. Electrophysiological data demonstrate that during noun-phrase production speakers retrieve the syntactic gender of a noun before its abstract phonological properties. This two-step process operates at high speed: the data show that phonological information is already available 40 milliseconds after syntactic properties have been retrieved.

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