To elucidate the relationships between syntactic and semantic processes, one interesting question is how syntactic structures are constructed by the argument structure of a verb, where each argument corresponds to a semantic role of each noun phrase (NP). Here we examined the effects of possessivity [sentences with or without a possessor] and canonicity [canonical or noncanonical word orders] using Japanese ditransitive sentences. During a syntactic decision task, the syntactic structure of each sentence would be constructed in an incremental manner based on the predicted argument structure of the ditransitive verb in a verb-final construction. Using magnetoencephalography, we found a significant canonicity effect on the current density in the left inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) at 530-550 ms after the verb onset. This effect was selective to canonical sentences, and significant even when the precedent NP was physically identical. We suggest that the predictive effects associated with syntactic processing became larger for canonical sentences, where the NPs and verb were merged with a minimum structural distance, leading to the left IFG activations. For monotransitive and intransitive verbs, in which structural computation of the sentences was simpler than that of ditransitive sentences, we observed a significant effect selective to noncanonical sentences in the temporoparietal regions during 480-670 ms. This effect probably reflects difficulty in semantic processing of noncanonical sentences. These results demonstrate that the left IFG plays a predictive role in syntactic processing, which depends on the canonicity determined by argument structures, whereas other temporoparietal regions would subserve more semantic aspects of sentence processing.
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