Data Sharing: fMRI Whole-brain datasets from “Alice in Wonderland”

Shohini Bhattasali has led the tremendous effort to make available the full whole-brain fMRI datasets recorded as part of the Alice in Wonderland project conducted in collaboration between our lab and John Hale’s lab (Cornell, U Georgia). Raw and preprocessed recordings from from 29 participants are available alongside code and stimuli at the OpenNeuro repository:

The dataset is described in the following publication:

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Talks and Posters at CUNY2020 in Amherst

Updated 5/19/20 to add links, including video of Rachel’s talk and all three posters.

The lab is looking forward to the 2020 CUNY Conference on Human Sentence Processing at UMass Amherst from March 19th to 21st! Be sure to check out our latest work:

  1. Rachel Weissler will give a talk titled Racial identity matters: EEG correlates reflect syntactic expectation based on both speaker identity and language variety in American Englishes
    (Thur 3/19 @ 2:30)  [watch the talk!]
  2. Tzu-Yun Tung will present a poster titled Asymmetric processing of Mandarin relative clauses (#B40, Poster Session B, Friday 12:10 – 2PM) [download here]
  3. Chia-wen Lo will present a poster titled Testing temporal boundaries of composition in low-frequency neural oscillations
    (#B49, Poster Session B, Friday 12:10 – 2PM) [download here]
  4. Tamarae Hildebrandt will present a poster titled Examining behavioral and electrophysiological coherence in a construction demonstrating gradient acceptability
    (#C54, Poster Session C, Saturday 12:10 – 2PM) [download here]

We are joined by fellow Michiganders Andrew McInnerney and Emily Atkinson (Talk Syntactically unintegrated parentheticals: Evidence from agreement attraction is Saturday @ 5:10) and Savi Namboodiripad (Poster #A24 Verb position and flexible constituent order processing: Comparing verb-final and verb- medial languages, Thursday 6-8pm)

Emily Sabo gives TEDx talk about language and humor!

Emily Sabo takes us through three guiding principles on what the scientific study of language can tell us about what makes us laugh.

“Emily is a Ph.D. student of Linguistics at The University of Michigan. By night, she performs standup comedy at dive bars near you. In her work as a linguist, she investigates the cognitive mechanisms that underlie bilingual language processing and the social priming that modulates how Midwesterners perceive Spanish-accented English speech in the U.S. today. Her passion projects include encouraging linguistic diversity, discouraging linguistic discrimination, and advocating for gender equality. This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community.”

New paper on grammatical expectations to African American Language!

Rachel Weissler’s work on grammatical expectations to African American Language is now out in the Penn Working Papers in Linguistics!

Weissler, R. E. & Brennan, J. R. (2020). How do listeners form grammatical expectations to African American Language?. University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics. 25(2)

Stay tuned in to this, as there are several follow-up studies already in the pipeline that are sure to be exciting.

The abstract:

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Paper: Training, text genre and human-like parsing

We have a new paper about RNNGs and EEG data from the DeepMind team (John Hale, Chris Dyer, Adhi Kuncoro), now also with Keith Hall at Google Research! Training the RNNG with  larger corpora improves the fit with neural data, but only when the corpora come from the same genre as the stimulus used with people!

Hale, J. T., Kuncoro, A., Hall, K. B., Dyer, C., & Brennan, J. R., (2019). Text Genre and Training Data Size in Human-Like Parsing. Proceedings of Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing

[Preprint at the Google AI archives]


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Paper: Phrases and phases

With the amazing Andrea Martin, we’re taking the first peak at whether the phase of delta, theta, and gamma oscillations align with constituency in naturalistic stimuli. tl;dr: it’s complicated

Brennan, J. R. & Martin, A. E. (2019). Phase synchronization varies systematically with linguistic structure composition. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 375
doi: 10.1098/rstb.2019.0305


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Paper: Reviewing the neural bases of composition

Liina Pylkkänen  and I have a forthcoming review on the neural bases of syntactic and semantic composition. It will appear in the 6th edition of The Cognitive Neurosciences (eds: Gazzaniga, Mangun, Poeppel), but the preprint is now up on PsyArXiv!

Pylkkänen, L. & Brennan, J. R. (Forthcoming). The Neurobiology of Syntactic and Semantic Structure Building (invited chapter for The Cognitive Neurosciences, 6th ed.) 


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Hellos and Goodbyes, Fall 2019 edition

With a new school-year starting, we welcome new researchers to the lab, and also say good-bye as others move on to (better??) things.


Goodbye to Samia Elahi! Samia joined the lab in 2016 as a UROP student and went on to be an invaluable contributor to many of our projects. She has been our lab manager for the last year and. We owe Samia a great deal of thanks for establishing rock-solid procedures for data collection while also making the lab a super welcoming place, full of camaraderie. Samia is pursuing graduate study in Speech-Language Pathology at Mass General Hospital – congratulations!



Hello to Meredith Belloni!  Meredith is starting as lab manager. She joins us from Northwestern where she completed her BA in Cognitive Science and Linguistics. Welcome to the group!!




Hello, also, to Jeong Hwa Cho! Jeong Hwa has begun her first year in the Linguistics graduate program. She joins us from Seoul National University where she has completed ERP research on L2 learning of syntax, behavioral research on aspectual semantics, and other projects. Welcome!