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Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

November 2009, Vol. 21, No. 11, Pages 2085-2099
(doi: 10.1162/jocn.2008.21161)
© 2008 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Unification of Speaker and Meaning in Language Comprehension: An fMRI Study
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When interpreting a message, a listener takes into account several sources of linguistic and extralinguistic information. Here we focused on one particular form of extralinguistic information, certain speaker characteristics as conveyed by the voice. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we examined the neural structures involved in the unification of sentence meaning and voice-based inferences about the speaker's age, sex, or social background. We found enhanced activation in the inferior frontal gyrus bilaterally (BA 45/47) during listening to sentences whose meaning was incongruent with inferred speaker characteristics. Furthermore, our results showed an overlap in brain regions involved in unification of speaker-related information and those used for the unification of semantic and world knowledge information [inferior frontal gyrus bilaterally (BA 45/47) and left middle temporal gyrus (BA 21)]. These findings provide evidence for a shared neural unification system for linguistic and extralinguistic sources of information and extend the existing knowledge about the role of inferior frontal cortex as a crucial component for unification during language comprehension.