Events

Readers and listeners assign interpretations to text and speech moment-by-moment as they perceive new input, rather than waiting until sentences unfold entirely to discern who is doing what to whom. Although efficient, processing language ‘on-the-fly’ can be costly: early interpretations sometimes turn out wrong when late-arriving input conflicts with one’s developing analysis. I will discuss how cognitive control—the ability to regulate thoughts and actions when confronted with information-conflict—is central to people’s ability to revise incorrect parsing decisions and prevent comprehension failure. First, I will present a theory wherein, contrary to popular belief, Broca’s area is not a “grammar organ” but rather a general-purpose cognitive-control mechanism with an important role in language use. Second, I will discuss a test case of a patient with circumscribed Broca’s area damage, who has preserved grammatical skills (not Broca’s aphasic) but impaired cognitive control, which includes a selective failure to override misinterpretations during language comprehension. Finally, my lab has been investigating how cognitive control procedures may be plastic, induced through various forms of experience including bilingualism, and how such plasticity affects language comprehension. I will briefly discuss bilinguals’ parsing/interpretation skills, including a heightened ability to detect and resolve ambiguity that is related to advantages (relative to monolinguals) in detecting information-conflict within memory. These findings suggest that cognitive control may be malleable in monolinguals through practice. If there’s time, I will also discuss how laboratory-based training of conflict-control yields improvements in monolinguals’ language processing. Together, these findings have theoretical and applied implications for language education and intervention in the clinical arena.