Multipath parsing in the brain

31 Jan 2024  ·  Berta Franzluebbers, Donald Dunagan, Miloš Stanojević, Jan Buys, John T. Hale ·

Humans understand sentences word-by-word, in the order that they hear them. This incrementality entails resolving temporary ambiguities about syntactic relationships. We investigate how humans process these syntactic ambiguities by correlating predictions from incremental generative dependency parsers with timecourse data from people undergoing functional neuroimaging while listening to an audiobook. In particular, we compare competing hypotheses regarding the number of developing syntactic analyses in play during word-by-word comprehension: one vs more than one. This comparison involves evaluating syntactic surprisal from a state-of-the-art dependency parser with LLM-adapted encodings against an existing fMRI dataset. In both English and Chinese data, we find evidence for multipath parsing. Brain regions associated with this multipath effect include bilateral superior temporal gyrus.

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