Not lost in translation: Generalization of the primary systems hypothesis to Japanese-specific language processes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  • External authors:
  • Taiji Ueno
  • Satoru Saito
  • Akie Saito
  • Yuki Tanida
  • Karalyn Patterson


The emergentist-connectionist approach assumes that language processing reflects interaction between primary neural systems (Primary Systems Hypothesis). This idea offers an overarching framework that generalizes to various kinds of (English) language and nonverbal cognitive activities. The current study advances this approach with respect to language in two new and important ways. The first is the provision of a neuroanatomically constrained implementation of the theory. The second is a test of its ability to generalize to a language other than English (in this case Japanese) and, in particular, to a feature of that language (pitch accent) for which there is no English equivalent. A corpus analysis revealed the presence and distribution of typical and atypical accent forms in Japanese vocabulary, forming a quasiregular domain. Consequently, according to the Primary Systems Hypothesis, there should be a greater semantic impact on the processing of words with an atypical pitch accent. In turn, when word meaning is intrinsically less rich (e.g., abstract words), speakers should be prone to regularization errors of pitch accent.We explored these semantic-phonological interactions, first, in a neuroanatomically constrained, parallel-distributed processing model of spoken language processing. This model captured the accent typicality effect observed in nonword repetition in Japanese adults and children and exhibited the predicted semantic impact on repetition of words with atypical accent patterns. Second, also as predicted, in word repetition and immediate serial recall of spoken words, human participants exhibited reduced pitch-accent accuracy and/or slower RT for low imageability words with atypical accent patterns, and they generated accent errors reflecting the more typical accent patterns found in Japanese. © 2013 Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)433-446
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2014