The generation of regular and irregular past tense verbs has been an important issue in cognitive science and has been used to advance different models of the organization of language in the brain. The dual-system view holds that the regular past tense forms are generated by a rule while irregular forms are retrieved from memory. The single-system view, on the other hand, holds that both forms are generated by a single integrated system and differ only in their reliance on factors such as phonology and semantics. We conducted an event-related fMRI study to examine the activation patterns associated with the generation and reading of regular and irregular past tense forms, in addition to the reading of their stems. Regular and irregular past tense generation activated similar brain regions compared to the reading of their respective stems. The areas activated more for irregular generation compared to regular generation included inferior frontal, precentral, and parietal regions bilaterally. This activation can be interpreted as reflecting the greater attentional and response selection demands of irregular generation. Compared to irregular generation, regular generation activated a small region in the left superior temporal gyrus when the regular and irregular past tense forms were mismatched on phonological complexity. No areas were more activated for regulars than irregulars when the past tense forms were matched on this variable. This suggests that the activation specific to regulars was related to the higher phonological complexity of their past tense forms rather than to their generation. A contrast of the reading of regular and irregular past tense forms was consistent with this hypothesis. These results support a single-system account of past tense generation.

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