Familial handedness and access to words, meaning, and syntax during sentence comprehension

David J. Townsend, Caroline Carrithers, Thomas G. Bever

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

16 Scopus citations


We compared right-handed familial dextral (FS-) and familial sinistral (FS+) participants who were aged either 10-13 years (children) or 18-23 years (adults). In word probe and associative probe tasks, FS+ adults responded faster than all other groups and FS+ children responded more slowly than all other groups. In the word probe task, only the FS- adults showed a significant effect of the serial position of the target word. We interpret these differences to support an analysis-by-synthesis model of comprehension in which individuals who differ in familial handedness and age emphasize different linguistic representations during comprehension. In general, FS+ individuals focus on words and meaning, while FS- individuals focus on syntactic representations. In FS+ individuals, age-related experiences with language produce a shift in responding from compositional meaning to words and their associations. In FS- individuals, age-related experiences with language produce a shift toward responding based more on detailed syntactic representations, including the serial order of words and possibly the structural roles of clauses.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)308-331
Number of pages24
JournalBrain and Language
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2001



  • Cerebral asymmetries
  • Individual differences
  • Language acquisition
  • Sentence comprehension

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