Grammatical categories in the brain: the role of morphological structure.


The current study addresses the controversial issue of how different grammatical categories are neurally processed. Several lesion-deficit studies suggest that distinct neural substrates underlie the representation of nouns and verbs, with verb deficits associated with damage to left inferior frontal gyrus (LIFG) and noun deficits with damage to left temporal cortex. However, this view is not universally shared by neuropsychological and neuroimaging studies. We have suggested that these inconsistencies may reflect interactions between the morphological structure of nouns and verbs and the processing implications of this, rather than differences in their neural representations (Tyler et al. 2004). We tested this hypothesis using event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging, to scan subjects performing a valence judgment on unambiguous nouns and verbs, presented as stems ('snail, hear') and inflected forms ('snails, hears'). We predicted that activations for noun and verb stems would not differ, whereas inflected verbs would generate more activation in left frontotemporal areas than inflected nouns. Our findings supported this hypothesis, with greater activation of this network for inflected verbs compared with inflected nouns. These results support the claim that form class is not a first-order organizing principle underlying the representation of words but rather interacts with the processes that operate over lexical representations.