Professor of Linguistics and Psychology
Cognition & Perception, Department of Linguistics

Lab Website


Fall 2018 UG Neural Bases of Language and G Neurolinguistics


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 them. 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.

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  • Ph.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2002 (Linguistics)
  • M.A., University of Pittsburgh, 1997 (Linguistics)


  • Professor of Linguistics and Psychology, New York University, NY (2016-present)
  • Associate Professor of Linguistics and Psychology, New York University, NY (2010-2016)
  • Assistant Professor of Linguistics and Psychology, New York University, NY (2004-2010)
  • Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Psychology, New York University & Department of Physiology and Neuroscience, New York University School of Medicine (2003 - 2004)
  • Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Linguistics, New York University (2002 - 2003)


  • Society for the Neurobiology of Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience Society
  • Society for Neuroscience

Selected Publications

(For a complete list, please visit my lab website)

Pylkkanen, L. (2008). Introducing Arguments. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA. [BOOK]

Pylkkanen, L. (2008). Mismatching Meanings in Brain and Behavior. Language and Linguistics Compass 2/4, 712-738.

Pylkkanen, L. & McElree, B. (2007). An MEG Study of Silent Meaning. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 19, 1905-1921. [pdf]

Pylkkanen, 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]

Pylkkanen, L., Llinas, R. & Murphy, G. (2006). Representation of polysemy: MEG evidence. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 18:1, pp. 113. [pdf]

Pylkkanen, 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]

Pylkkanen, L., & Marantz, A. (2003). Tracking the time course of word recognition with MEG. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 7, 187-189. [pdf]

Pylkkanen, 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, 666678. [pdf]

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Liina Pylkkanen
Professor of Linguistics and Psychology

Department of Psychology
New York University
6 Washington Place
New York, NY 10003
Tel: (212) 992-8764
Fax: (212) 995-4018


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