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Development Neurocognition Disorders

Themes and actions

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Embodied cognition in native and foreign language

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Veronique BOULENGER , Claudio BROZZOLI , Jennifer KRZONOWSKI , Tzuyi TSENG , Alice Catherine ROY

Scientific framework and objectives

Embodied cognition theories have offered a new perspective on the relationship between language and the brain. It is now well established that our phonological and lexical representations are enriched by the sensorimotor experiences of our body with the environment. At the semantic level, processing of action words activates the motor cortex (Boulenger et al., 2009; Hauk et al., 2004) and can also interfere with or facilitate movement execution (Boulenger et al., 2006, 2008). At the phonological level, studies using passive listening revealed motor resonance of perceived phonemes (Roy et al., 2008); somatotopy of place of articulation was even reported in the premotor cortex (Pulvermüller et al., 2006). More recently, this relationship between language and the motor system has been extended to syntax: studies have indeed suggested the existence of a supramodal syntax, governing both language and action (Brozzoli et al., 2019; Roy et al., 2013).
In this framework, and in collaboration with C. Brozzoli (IMPACT-CRNL INSERM U1028 - CNRS UMR5292), we follow two lines of research:

  1. Embodied cognition in foreign language learning
  2. Syntax in language and action

The first line of research (ANR project AnchorFL) deals with an embodied approach of phonological processing in a foreign language. We will first aim at examining with fMRi the motor cortical resonance for the perception of phonemes in a non-native language. We will then determinE whether manual gestures that illustratte the place/mode of articulation of these phonemes can benefit their identification and production (T. Tseng' PhD). (

The second line of research (ANR SYNTOOL, in collaboration with A. Abeillé, LLF Paris) aims at investigating the links between linguistic and motor syntax. We showed that tool-use shares cognitive and neural substrates with syntactic procesing so that tool-use training can improve syntactic skills and vice-versa (Thibault et al., 2021). This is especially the case for complex structures such as object-relative clauses. Our objective is now to characterize the sensorimotor and linguistic ingredients that allow this learning transfer between the two domains.

  Financial support
  • Appel à Projets Pluridisciplinaires Interne (APPI)
    Embodied cognition in second language processing: an fMRI study
    Université Lyon 2
  • ANR Projet de Recherche Collaborative
    AnchorFL: Anchoring Foreign Language Learning
    Agence Nationale de la Recherche
  • ANR Projet de Recherche Collaborative
    SYNTOOL : The embodied syntax of tools
    Agence Nationale de la Recherche

  • Brozzoli, C., Roy, A., Lidborg, L., Lövden, M., 2019, "Language as a tool: motor proficiency using a tool predicts individual linguistic abilities", Frontiers in Psychology, doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01639
  • Thibault, S., Py, R., Gervasi, A., Salemme, R., Koun, E., Lövden, M., Boulenger, V., Roy, A., Brozzoli, C., 2021, "Tool use and language share syntactic processes and neural patterns in the basal ganglia ", Science, 374:6569

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