Abstract

Previous research regarding the neural basis of semantic composition has relied heavily on violation paradigms, which often compare implausible sentences that violate world knowledge to plausible sentences that do not violate world knowledge. This comparison is problematic as it may involve extralinguistic operations such as contextual repair and processes that ultimately lead to the rejection of an anomalous sentence, and these processes may not be part of the core language system. Also, it is unclear if violations of world knowledge actually affect the linguistic operations for semantic composition. Here, we compared two types of sentences that were grammatical, plausible, and acceptable and differed only in the number of semantic operations required for comprehension without the confound of implausible sentences. Specifically, we compared complement coercion sentences (the novelist began the book), which require an extra compositional operation to arrive at their meaning, to control sentences (the novelist wrote the book), which do not have this extra compositional operation, and found that the neural response to complement coercion sentences activated Brodmann's area 45 in the left inferior frontal gyrus more than control sentences. Furthermore, the processing of complement coercion recruited different brain regions than more traditional semantic and syntactic violations (the novelist astonished/write the book, respectively), suggesting that coercion processes are a part of the core of the language faculty but do not recruit the wider network of brain regions underlying semantic and syntactic violations.

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