FriedemannPulvermuller - Methods

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Friedemann Pulvermüller

Contact details

MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, 15 Chaucer Road, Cambridge, CB2 2EF


+44 (0) 1223 355 294 Ext 670


+44 (0) 1223 359 062

Direct line:

+44 (0) 1223 273691


<friedemann.pulvermuller AT SPAMFREE DOT uk>



Brain mechanisms of language

Neuroimaging: metabolic and physiological

Neurocomputation: brain inspired networks

Neurorehabilitation and aphasia therapy

Brain mechanisms of language


F.Pulvermuller (1999) Words in the Brain's Language, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 22, 253-336

My main interests in science are in the neurobiological basis of language. This theorizing led to a model of language processing in the human brain, formulated at the level of nerve cell cercuits cutting across perception and action systems of the brain. The model specifies neural circuits processing speech sounds, words, their meaning and the syntactic rules that influence their order in time. Words are envisaged to be represented in the brain by distributed cell assemblies whose cortical topographies reflect aspects of word meaning. The rules of syntax are proposed to be a product of the interplay between specialized neuronal units, called sequence detectors, and general principles of neuronal dynamics designed to control and regulate activity levels in cortical areas.

In case you got interested: Here are some PapersOnBrainLanguageMechanisms, and here is a link to a book with more information about this general approach.


F.Pulvermuller (2003) The Neuroscience of Language. On Brain Circuits of Words and Serial Order, Cambridge University Press.


F.Pulvermuller (2001) Brain reflections of words and their meaning, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 5, 517-524.

Neuroimaging: metabolic and physiological

Together with my colleagues at CBU, especially YuryShtyrov and Olaf Hauk, my neuroimaging research focuses on studying brain processes of language with multiple imaging techniques, including magnetoencephalography (MEG), electroencephalography (EEG) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Another focus is on alterations of language processes in the brain brought about by transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), focal cortical lesions, and presentation of linguistic information to different parts of the visual field.

Highlights have been the discovery that the meaning of words of different kinds, for example action words or words related to visual perceptions, elicit cortical activation that reflect that meaning. A leg-related word such as "kick" even if only heard during a distraction task, would immediately spark the cortical leg area. This neurophysiological manifestation of the semantic embodiment of meaning, especially its local specificity and extremely rapid time course, has major implication for theories of semantic and conceptual processing. Language action links could also be demonstrated at the phonological level, between the sounds and the cortical motor patches that control the specific articulators that produce the sounds. We interpret these data as evidence for learned distributed cortical circuit. These appear as the cortical basis of binding of linguistic information at different levels.


Spatiotemporal patterns of brain actiity: MEG research at CBU


CBU just got its Magnetencephalography (MEG) device and we plan to use it to reveal spatiotemporal signatures of cortical activation in cognitive and language processing. We are, so to speak, moving forward from the era of photography (fMRI) to that of movies. An activation film recorded during the processing of spoken works can be found here:

a brain activation film recorded during the comprehension of a spoken word

Article on spatiotemporal patterns

Language outside the focus of attention

Much language processing takes place effortless and even outside the focus of attention, such that even if we focus our attention elsewhere, we still process aspects of the higher linguistic information that comes in. This has been shown for a range of higher linguistic processes, including lexical access, syntactic processing (of agreement for example), semantic analysis and even semantic context integration. The automatic language processes are early and probably followed by secondary deeper processing, especially if there is a processing problem. However, the effortless, attention-independent early processes may take care most of the thousands of words we hear and read every day.

[attachment PulvermullerShtyrov]


Neurocomputation: brain inspired networks of the language cortex

We use brain inspired networks whose structure and function immitates the anatomiy of the particular brain systems, especially the language cortex, to explore theoretical implications of brain models of language. The "brain part simulators" would allow for precise predictions on where and when in the brain activation emerges during the processing of specific types of information. The brain part simulator can be used to predict time course and spreading of cortical activation, as it can be observed during neurophysiological experiments.


Neurorehabilitation including aphasia therapy

As a scientist, I have a strong committment to exploring ways in which our theoretical insights might benefit people. In the realm of language, i.e. linguistics and language philosophy, practical applicability is sometimes not easy to see. Likewise, theoretical neuroscience does not necessarily aim at improving the practice. However, when bringing together insights from the language, psychological and brain sciences, it is sometimes possible to develop new methods for rehabilitation of individuals who suffer from disease of the brain. We have been using cognitive-linguistic and neuroscience knowledge emerging from experimental work in the development of new rehabilitation techniques, especially for the treatment of language deficits after stroke. New treatment approaches, for example Communicative Aphasia Therapy or Constraint-Induced Aphasia Therapy, are meanwhile used successfully in neurorehabilitation. The aim is now to optimize and enahnce these approaches and monitor their effect of brain plasticity.


How to get more info

A full list of all my publications - and more details about my life - can be found in the CV below:

Friedemann Pulvermaller's Curriculum Vitae, incl. list of publications

If you are interested in a particular paper, please send an e-mail to our librarian,