The left inferior frontal gyrus (LIFG) has long been claimed to play a key role in language function. However, there is considerable controversy as to whether regions within LIFG have specific linguistic or domain-general functions. Using fMRI, we contrasted linguistic and task-related effects by presenting simple and morphologically complex words while subjects performed a lexical decision (LD) task or passively listened (PL) without making an overt response. LIFG Brodmann's area 47 showed greater activation in LD than PL, whereas LIFG Brodmann's area 44 showed greater activation to complex compared with simple words in both tasks. These results dissociate task-driven and obligatory language processing in LIFG and suggest that PL is the paradigm of choice for probing the core aspects of the neural language system.