Probing Brain Activation Patterns by Dissociating Semantics and Syntax in Sentences
The relation between semantics and syntax and where they are represented in the neural level has been extensively debated in neurosciences. Existing methods use manually designed stimuli to distinguish semantic and syntactic information in a sentence that may not generalize beyond the experimental setting. This paper proposes an alternative framework to study the brain representation of semantics and syntax. Specifically, we embed the highly-controlled stimuli as objective functions in learning sentence representations and propose a disentangled feature representation model (DFRM) to extract semantic and syntactic information in sentences. This model can generate one semantic and one syntactic vector for each sentence. Then we associate these disentangled feature vectors with brain imaging data to explore brain representation of semantics and syntax. Results have shown that semantic feature is represented more robustly than syntactic feature across the brain including the default-mode, frontoparietal, visual networks, etc.. The brain representations of semantics and syntax are largely overlapped, but there are brain regions only sensitive to one of them. For instance, several frontal and temporal regions are specific to the semantic feature; parts of the right superior frontal and right inferior parietal gyrus are specific to the syntactic feature.