Word order variation is a core property of sentence construction in natural languages and has been one of the most extensively studied issues in linguistics and cognitive science. In Hebrew, like in English, the basic word order is Subject-Verb-Object (SVO), but other orders, such as OSV or VSO, are also possible. According to generative syntactic theory, OSV and VSO are derived from the basic SVO order by two different types of syntactic movement: wh-movement, which moves the object to the beginning of the sentence, and verb movement, which moves the verb to a pre-subject position. Using sets of minimally-different sentences, containing the same words in different orders, we investigated the cortical activations related to the processing of these movement types. For wh-movement, we compared OSV and SVO sentences; like earlier studies of wh-movement, we found activations in the left IFG and bilateral posterior temporal regions. Activations related to verb movement were obtained through the comparison of VSO and SVO sentences, which showed activation in the left inferior occipital gyrus. Furthermore, an ROI analysis of regions that were active in the wh-movement contrast showed no difference between VSO and SVO conditions. This is the first fMRI study to compare wh-movement and verb movement, and the first to test verb movement in comprehension. The findings indicate that the different syntactic analyses assumed by linguistic theory for different word orders are reflected in differential brain activations, lending support for the generative theory of syntactic movement and the distinction between wh-movement and verb movement.
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