Implicit Artificial Syntax Processing: Genes, Preference, and Bounded Recursion


  • Vasiliki Folia
  • Christian Forkstam
  • Martin Ingvar
  • Karl Magnus Petersson


artificial grammar learning, artificial language, Broca’s region, CNTNAP2, fMRI, FOXP2, genes, grammaticality classification, natural language, preference classification, syntax


The first objective of this study was to compare the brain network engaged by preference classification and the standard grammaticality classification after implicit artificial syntax acquisition by re-analyzing previously reported event-related fMRI data. The results show that preference and grammaticality classification engage virtually identical brain networks, including Broca’s region, consistent with previous behavioral findings. Moreover, the results showed that the effects related to artificial syntax in Broca’s region were essentially the same when masked with variability related to natural syntax processing in the same participants. The second objective was to explore CNTNAP2-related effects in implicit artificial syntax learning by analyzing behavioral and event-related fMRI data from a subsample. The CNTNAP2 gene has been linked to specific language impairment and is con-trolled by the FOXP2 transcription factor. CNTNAP2 is expressed in language related brain networks in the developing human brain and the FOXP2–CNTNAP2 pathway provides a mechanistic link between clinically distinct syndromes involving disrupted language. Finally, we discuss the implication of taking natural language to be a neurobiological system in terms of bounded recursion and suggest that the left inferior frontal region is a generic on-line sequence processor that unifies information from various sources in an incremental and recursive manner.