Rice University

Linguistics 411, Neurolinguistics

Suggested Projects

Each of the projects listed below involves an area of great current interest in neurolinguistics. For most of these topics there is quite a bit of literature, so most of your effort will consist of reviewing and synthesizing this previous work. I can guide you to some of the relevant literature, and you may find other items by using Google Scholar and other sources. In some cases, with some good thinking, you may be able to add something meaningful of your own to previous work.

For help in selecting a topic, please consult the course instructor. In any case, You need to check with him before making your final selection. If the topic you pick has already been chosen, he may steer you to another one.

Papers deemed good enough may, after editing, be added to the Language and Brain website (with author's permission).

Project Topics.
This is not an exhaustive list. Please feel free to come up with your own topic. Some of these topics are broad enough to permit work by two different students, working with different emphases.

  1. Evidence for vowel positions in Wernicke's area. There is some very intriguing recent imaging work, using MEG, that finds different positions for different vowels in Wernicke's area, and the locations of these positions show a correspondence to their positioning in the traditional vowel quadrilateral. Warning: Some of these papers are very difficult to understand. What we need is a review and evaluation. If these findings can be corroborated, they represent a very important breakthrough.

  2. Functions of the angular gyrus. Previous work has shown that the angular gyrus at least is involved in reading and in some aspects of lexical processing and conceptual processing. It is likely that the angular gyrus is involved in lexical processing for nouns and perhaps for adjectives, but not for other things, like verbs. It would be valuable to pull together the relevant findings form the literature involving this linguistically important area.

  3. Functions of the supramarginal gyrus. The supramarginal gyrus has been implicated in conduction aphasia, and it probably has a role in phonology and in some aspects of lexical and conceptual processing. It would be very valuable to pull together the relevant findings form the literature involving this linguistically important area.

  4. Functions of the middle temporal gyrus. This important area seems to be implicated, along with the angular gyrus, in conceptual information for nouns. It also seems to function as an extenstion of Wernicke's area for second language phonology in some bilinguals. It would be good to have a survey of findings from aphasiology and from imaging studies.

  5. Functions of the insula. This large area, in the depths of the sylvian fissure, is in the language-processing region, and it has been implicated in some aphasic disorders. Since it extends from the frontal lobe to parietal and temporal areas, there are likely to be different functions for different portions of the insule. It would be good to find some significant literature relating to this lange area and try to make some sense of it.

  6. Functions of the thalamus relating to language processing. This vitally important subcortical structure plays an important role in binding and in temporal coordination of language processing. The authority in recent years is R. Llinas of New York University, who has written a lot of stuff that needs to be reviewed.

  7. Grammatical functions of Broca's area. We know that Broca's area is involved in phonological production and that it also has syntactic and morphological roles. It would be good to survey some of the research relating to these roles, particularly to the parcellation of different functions in different parts of Broca's area.

  8. Category dissociations in aphasic disorders. There are several papers by Caramazza and various coauthors on this topic. A good synthesis and critical interpretation of this work would be very valuable.

  9. Linguistic functions of the right hemisphere. There is a lot of literature available. It would be nice to have a good up-to-date synthesis. This area is broad enough to permit work by two or three different students, each with a different emphasis.

  10. Anatomical differences between the RH and LH. Can we account for the functional differences in terms of differing anatomical details? One possible difference: the RH may have fewer inhibitory connections.

  11. Neuroanatomy of the left temporal lobe. There is a classic very detailed study by Selden published 25 years ago. For many years it has been the standard, but by now there may be more recent findings. A review of both Selden and more recent work would be very helpful.

  12. Processing of written language. There is a lot of literature available on different aspects of this large area. Several different topics are available. One interesting finding: Chinese characters are processed largely in the RH, alphabetic characters in the LH.

  13. Music processing. Music resembles language in several important ways. There is interesting evidence on the brain structures that subserve music processing from both aphasiology and brain imaging. It would be good to have a survey.

  14. Evidence from cortical probes during neurosurgery. This type of study was pioneered by Penfield and Roberts in Montreal, and has been pursued for several years by Dr. Ojemann of the University of Washington in Seattle. Now some others are also performing experiments of this type, including Dr. Nitin Tandon of the Texas Mecical Center. It would be good to have a survey of recent work.

  15. Evidence from TMS. So far, not much work has been done using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), but there may be enough now to make it worthwhile to bring together a nice synthesis.

  16. Recent research on cortical columns. Work more recent than Mountcastle's 1998 book.

  17. Relevant work of Patricia Kuhl and colleages. She has done some very interesting work on early language development

  18. Information on timing of events in linguistic processing from EEG studies. For example, the significance of P200 and N400.

  19. Cortical representation of 2nd language information.

  20. Linguistically relevant aspects of synesthesia.

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This page last updated 5 March 2010.

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