An important issue in language learning is how new words are integrated in the brain representations that sustain language processing. To identify the brain regions involved in meaning acquisition and word learning, we conducted a functional magnetic resonance imaging study. Young participants were required to deduce the meaning of a novel word presented within increasingly constrained sentence contexts that were read silently during the scanning session. Inconsistent contexts were also presented in which no meaning could be assigned to the novel word. Participants showed meaning acquisition in the consistent but not in the inconsistent condition. A distributed brain network was identified comprising the left anterior inferior frontal gyrus (BA 45), the middle temporal gyrus (BA 21), the parahippocampal gyrus, and several subcortical structures (the thalamus and the striatum). Drawing on previous neuroimaging evidence, we tentatively identify the roles of these brain areas in the retrieval, selection, and encoding of the meaning.

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Author notes

*Current address: Novartis International AG, CH 4002 Basel, Switzerland.