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The Neural Representations of Function Words : Neurolinguistic Beliefs Reconsidered in the Light of Grammaticalisation Theory


  • Sabine Gosselke

Summary, in English

It has in recent years been shown that some linguistic items, in particular lexical and abstracted movement verbs, activate the motor cortex in the human brain while being processed. The present study sets out to investigate how far this activation is retained for grammaticalised motion verbs which have shed their lexical content in exchange for grammatical functionality. Traditional literature suggests that content words and function words are stringently separated in the brain, which becomes questionable in the light of grammaticalisation processes. An analysis of leg movements primed with lexical and grammaticalised leg movement verbs as well as non-movement verbs found a significant effect of both semantic and functional motion words. This finding does not only further support the hypothesis that the processing of certain types of words involves the motor cortex, but also suggests that this activation is retained if words become grammaticalised. If function words, as generally assumed, do at some point experience a restriction to the brain’s core language areas, this development must take place at a very late stage in grammaticalisation, possibly with the loss of either the subjacent content word or the awareness of the relatedness of content and function word, due to extreme phonetic reduction.







Examensarbete för masterexamen (Två år)


  • Languages and Literatures


  • grammaticalisation
  • neurolinguistics
  • function words
  • processing
  • motor cortex
  • movement priming


  • Mikael Roll
  • Merle Horne