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Brain Lang. 2011 Dec;119(3):196-205. doi: 10.1016/j.bandl.2011.07.004. Epub 2011 Sep 1.

Neural correlates of metonymy resolution.

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Department of Psychiatry, University of Tuebingen, Osianderstrasse 26, 72076 Tuebingen, Germany.


Metonymies are exemplary models for complex semantic association processes at the sentence level. We investigated processing of metonymies using event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). During an 1.5Tesla fMRI scan, 14 healthy subjects (12 female) read 124 short German sentences with either literal (like "Africa is arid"), metonymic ("Africa is hungry"), or nonsense ("Africa is woollen") content. Sentences were constructed so that they obey certain grammatical, semantic, and plausibility conditions and were matched for word frequency, semantic association, length and syntactic structure. We concentrated on metonymies that were not yet fossilised; we also examined a wide variety of metonymic readings. Reading metonymies relative to literal sentences revealed signal changes in a predominantly left-lateralised fronto-temporal network with maxima in the left and right inferior frontal as well as left middle temporal gyri. Left inferior frontal activation may reflect both inference processes and access to world knowledge during metonymy resolution.

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