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Brain Lang. 2000 Dec;75(3):289-300.

Auditory language comprehension: an event-related fMRI study on the processing of syntactic and lexical information.

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Max Planck Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, Leipzig, Germany.


The functional specificity of different brain regions recruited in auditory language processing was investigated by means of event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while subjects listened to speech input varying in the presence or absence of semantic and syntactic information. There were two sentence conditions containing syntactic structure, i.e., normal speech (consisting of function and content words), syntactic speech (consisting of function words and pseudowords), and two word-list conditions, i.e., real words and pseudowords. The processing of auditory language, in general, correlates with significant activation in the primary auditory cortices and in adjacent compartments of the superior temporal gyrus bilaterally. Processing of normal speech appeared to have a special status, as no frontal activation was observed in this case but was seen in the other three conditions. This difference may point toward a certain automaticity of the linguistic processes used during normal speech comprehension. When considering the three other conditions, we found that these were correlated with activation in both left and right frontal cortices. An increase of activation in the planum polare bilaterally and in the deep portion of the left frontal operculum was found exclusively when syntactic processes were in focus. Thus, the present data may be taken to suggest an involvement of the left frontal and bilateral temporal cortex when processing syntactic information during comprehension.

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