Is the Brain Mechanism for Hierarchical Structure Building Universal Across Languages? An fMRI Study of Chinese and English
Xiaohan Zhang | Shaonan Wang | Nan Lin | Chengqing Zong
Proceedings of the 2022 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing
Evidence from psycholinguistic studies suggests that the human brain builds a hierarchical syntactic structure during language comprehension. However, it is still unknown whether the neural basis of such structures is universal across languages. In this paper, we first analyze the differences in language structure between two diverse languages: Chinese and English. By computing the working memory requirements when applying parsing strategies to different language structures, we find that top-down parsing generates less memory load for the right-branching English and bottom-up parsing is less memory-demanding for Chinese.Then we use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate whether the brain has different syntactic adaptation strategies in processing Chinese and English. Specifically, for both Chinese and English, we extract predictors from the implementations of different parsing strategies, i.e., bottom-up and top-down. Then, these predictors are separately associated with fMRI signals. Results show that for Chinese and English, the brain utilizes bottom-up and top-down parsing strategies separately. These results reveal that the brain adopts parsing strategies with less memory processing load according to different language structures.