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The development of neural systems for language (DNLP)
Start date: 01 Nov 2008, End date: 31 Oct 2012 PROJECT  FINISHED 

"The ability to communicate through language is a central cognitive skill acquired early in human development. Children’s language skills, particularly combinatorial aspects of language such as syntax and morphology, continue to develop during the school years. These ages are also a time of significant change in children’s brains, both in white matter and gray matter. The current proposal applies two complementary brain imaging techniques, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), to study the neural circuits underlying language processes in Hebrew speaking school age children and young adults. We focus on the development of combinatorial aspects of language, specifically, syntax and morphology. This focus is motivated by scientific and clinical considerations: From a basic science perspective, combinatorial language skills constitute the core of human linguistic ability, combining structural units recursively into complex words, phrases and sentences. Clinically, syntactic and morphological deficits have been detected in specific language impairments (SLI), but the neurological deficit underlying these impairments is not well understood. We use fMRI to identify language related brain regions in individual children and adults. We then examine age related differences in the sensitivity to syntactic and morphological contrasts within these brain regions. We use DTI data combined with psycholinguistic and fMRI measurements in the same individual to analyze age- and skill-related changes in white matter pathways within syntactic and morphological circuits. Our approach provides a principled, comprehensive assessment of typical development in brain circuits that process combinatorial aspects of language, and sets an important baseline for detecting developmental delay and impairment in clinical child populations."
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