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Hum Brain Mapp. 2014 Apr;35(4):1503-14. doi: 10.1002/hbm.22269. Epub 2013 Apr 9.

When some is not every: dissociating scalar implicature generation and mismatch.

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Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience, Division of Developmental Medicine, Department of Medicine, Children's Hospital Boston, Boston, Massachusetts; Department of Linguistics, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.


Making inferences beyond the literal meaning of sentences occurs with certain scalar expressions via scalar implicatures. For example, adults usually interpret some as some but not all. On the basis of behavioral research, it has been suggested that processing implicatures is cognitively costly. However, many studies have used cases where sentences with some did not match the context in which they were presented. Our study aimed to examine whether the processing cost is linked to implicature generation, to the mismatch between the implicature and the context, or to both processes. To do so, we explored the neural patterns of implicature generation and implicature mismatch using fMRI. Thirteen participants performed a sentence-picture matching task (where pictures determined the context) with mismatched implicatures, successful implicatures or no implicature conditions. Several brain regions were identified when comparing cases of implicature mismatch and cases without implicatures. One of these regions, left-IFG, was jointly activated for mismatched and successful implicatures, as observed in a conjunction analysis. By contrast, left-MFG and medial-frontal-gyrus, were identified when comparing cases of implicature mismatch with cases of successful implicatures. Thus, the left IFG can be interpreted as being linked to implicature generation, whereas the other two areas seem to participate in the processing of the mismatch between the implicature and its context. Our results indicate that scalar implicatures induce processing cost in different ways. This should be considered in future research.


BA47; fMRI; neurolinguistics; pragmatics; quantifiers; semantics

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