BraiSiCo: Brain Signatures of Communication

Principal investigators:
Prof Dr. Friedemann Pulvermüller
FU Berlin

Project description:
Substantial neuroscience research has addressed the question how the meaning of words and sentences is manifest in brain activity. However, as linguistic structures can be tools for different purposes, it is crucial to understand the mechanisms underlying the different communicative functions a word or sentence can have in different communicative contexts. Linguistic pragmatic theories characterise these functions as speech acts, and the communicative contexts defining them, in terms of sequential structure of actions, related commitments, and knowledge shared by communication partners (common ground). We here use linguistic-pragmatic brain theory to model speech-act related cognitive and linguistic processes and their underlying neuronal mechanisms and experimentally test crucial predictions of the resultant models. Specific experiments will investigate the cognitive and brain correlates of understanding and production of speech acts performed with the same utterances in different contexts. EEG, MEG, fMRI, and cognitive-behavioural testing will be used to find neurocognitive correlates of speech acts, and additional work with special populations (aphasics, autists) is planned. A focus will be on communicative acts from the linguistic-pragmatic category of ‘directives’, which will be contrasted with ‘assertives’ and ‘expressives’. The project’s main aims are to map specific speech act types and their crucial linguistic-pragmatic components on brain activation patterns in both space and time and to use these results to inform linguistic-pragmatic theory.