Behavioral and Brain Sciences

Open Peer Commentary
Clahsen: Rules of language

One, two, or many mechanisms? The brain's processing of complex words

Thomas F. Münte a1, Antoni Rodriguez-Fornells a1a2 and Marta Kutas a3
a1 Department of Neurology, Medizinische Hochschule (Medical School) Hannover, 30623 Hannover, Germany
a2 Department of Psychology, University of Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain 08035
a3 Departments of Cognitive Science and Neuroscience, University of California at San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093-0515


The heated debate over whether there is only a single mechanism or two mechanisms for morphology has diverted valuable research energy away from the more critical questions about the neural computations involved in the comprehension and production of morphologically complex forms. Cognitive neuroscience data implicate many brain areas. All extant models, whether they rely on a connectionist network or espouse two mechanisms, are too underspecified to explain why more than a few brain areas differ in their activity during the processing of regular and irregular forms. No one doubts that the brain treats regular and irregular words differently, but brain data indicate that a simplistic account will not do. It is time for us to search for the critical factors free from theoretical blinders.