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The essence of human language is its unbounded combinatory potential: Generative systems of syntax and semantics allow for the composition of an infinite range of expressions from a limited set of elementary building blocks. My research aims to characterize the representational and processing properties of this combinatory system. What are its basic computational units and how do they structurally combine? After completing a substantial body of theoretical work addressing the syntax-semantics interface for a particular subdomain of grammar (the verb phrase), I turned my research focus to characterizing the brain mechanisms responsible for the semantic combinatorics of language . The operations by which our brains build complex meanings from simpler pieces are intimately intertwined with computations building complex syntactic structures. Thus an important goal of my laboratory is to also understand the neural bases of syntactic structure building. Finally, since complex syntactic and semantic representations are, in some sense, the end product of language comprehension, being able to study them requires an understanding of the lower-level processes leading up to it. Thus in addition to studies directly targeting sentence-level semantics, my research has also addressed word-level processes such as lexical access and morphological decomposition. To monitor brain activity, the work in my lab primarily employs magnetoencephalography (MEG), which offers the best combination of temporal and spatial resolution among currently available cognitive neuroscience methods.
Fig. 1. MEG evoked response to visually presented words. Magnetic field maps
are plotted on top and dipole solutions in the bottom.
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V61.0028, Language and Mind, undergrad.
- Spring 2009 (Blackboard website)
- Spring 2006 (Blackboard website)
- Spring 2007 (Blackboard website)
G61.2370-001, Semantics II , grad.
G61.3340-001: Seminar in Semantics, grad.
- Spring 2006: Mechanisms of Noncompositionality Resolution
Ph.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2002 (Linguistics)
M.A., University of Pittsburgh, 1997 (Linguistics)
Positions Associate Professor of Linguistics and Psychology, New York University, NY (2010-present)
Cognitive Neuroscience Society
Linguistic Society of America
Organization for Human Brain Mapping
Fellowships & Awards
Invitation to be a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford, Palo Alto, CA (2005).
University Research Challenge Fund Award, New York University (2005).
Provost's Fellowship. Merit Fellowship awarded by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (2000).
Henry B. Roger's Fellowship. Merit Fellowship awarded by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1999).
Pylkkänen, L. (2008). Introducing Arguments. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA. [BOOK]
Pylkkänen, L. (2008). Mismatching Meanings in Brain and Behavior. Language and Linguistics Compass 2/4, 712–738.
Pylkkänen, L. & McElree, B. (2007). An MEG Study of Silent Meaning. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, [pdf], 19, 1905-1921.
Pylkkänen, L. & McElree, B. (2006). The syntax-semantics interface: On-line composition of sentence meaning. In M. Traxler & M.A. Gernsbacher (eds.), Handbook of Psycholinguistics (2nd Ed) (pp. 537-577). NY: Elsevier. [pdf]
Pylkkänen, L., Llinas, R. & Murphy, G. (2006). Representation of polysemy: MEG evidence. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 18:1, pp. 1-13. [pdf]
Pylkkänen, L., Feintuch, S., Hopkins, E., & Marantz, A. (2004). Neural correlates of the effects of morphological family frequency and family size: an MEG study. Cognition , 91, B35-B45. [pdf]
Pylkkänen, L., & Marantz, A. (2003). Tracking the time course of word recognition with MEG. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 7, 187-189. [pdf]
Pylkkänen, L., Stringfellow, A., & Marantz, A. (2002). Neuromagnetic evidence for the timing of lexical activation: An MEG component sensitive to phonotactic probability but not to neighborhood density. Brain and Language, 81, 666-678. [pdf]
Department of Psychology
New York University
6 Washington Place, Room 277
New York, NY 10003
Tel: (212) 998-8386
Fax: (212) 995-4018