Syntactic factors can rapidly affect behavioral and neural responses during language processing; however, the mechanisms that allow this rapid extraction of syntactically relevant information remain poorly understood. We addressed this issue using magnetoencephalography and found that an unexpected word category (e.g., The recently princess...) elicits enhanced activity in visual cortex as early as 120 ms after exposure, and that this activity occurs as a function of the compatibility of a word's form with the form properties associated with a predicted word category. Because no sensitivity to linguistic factors has been previously reported for words in isolation at this stage of visual analysis, we propose that predictions about upcoming syntactic categories are translated into form-based estimates, which are made available to sensory cortices. This finding may be a key component to elucidating the mechanisms that allow the extreme rapidity and efficiency of language comprehension.
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