Processing noncanonical sentences in Broca's region: Reflections of movement distance and type

Michiru Makuuchi*, Yosef Grodzinsky, Katrin Amunts, Andrea Santi, Angela D. Friederici

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Various noncanonical sentence constructions are derived from basic sentence structures by a phrase displacement called Movement. The moved phrase (filler) leaves a silent copy at the extracted position (gap) and is reactivated when the hearer/reader passes over the gap. Consequently, memory operations are assumed to occur to establish the filler-gap link. For languages that have a relatively free word order like German, a distinct linguistic operation called Scrambling is proposed. Although Movement and Scrambling are assumed to be different linguistic operations, they both involve memory prone filler-gap processes. To clarify whether filler-gap memory processes in Scrambling and Movement differ neuroanatomically, we designed a functional magnetic resonance imaging study and compared the effect of memory load parameterized by filler-gap distance in the 2 sentence types. Here, we show that processing of the 2 sentence types commonly relies on a left hemispheric network consisting of the inferior frontal gyrus, middle part of the middle temporal gyrus, and intraparietal sulcus. However, we found differences for the 2 sentence types in the linearity of filler-gap distance effect. Thus, the present results suggest that the same neural substrate supports the memory processes of sentences constructed by Movement and Scrambling, although differentially modulated by memory load.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)694-702
Number of pages9
JournalCerebral Cortex
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Partial support for this project was provided by an Alexander von Humboldt Foundation Research Award (Y.G.) and by National Institute of Health (grant #00094), Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (standard grant #410-2009-0431), Canada Research Chairs (Y.G.), and the German Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF; grant 01 GW0773 A.F. and 01 GW0771 K.A. and A.F.).


  • fMRI
  • language
  • movement
  • scrambling
  • syntax


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