Over the past few decades, research into the function of the cerebellum has expanded far beyond the motor domain. A growing number of studies are probing the role of specific cerebellar subregions, such as Crus I and Crus II, in higher-order cognitive functions including receptive language processing. In the current fMRI study, we show evidence for the cerebellum’s sensitivity to variation in two well-studied psycholinguistic properties of words—lexical frequency and phonological neighborhood density—during passive, continuous listening of a podcast. To determine whether, and how, activity in the cerebellum correlates with these lexical properties, we modeled each word separately using an amplitude-modulated regressor, time-locked to the onset of each word. At the group level, significant effects of both lexical properties landed in expected cerebellar subregions: Crus I and Crus II. The BOLD signal correlated with variation in each lexical property, consistent with both language-specific and domain-general mechanisms. Activation patterns at the individual level also showed that effects of phonological neighborhood and lexical frequency landed in Crus I and Crus II as the most probable sites, though there was activation seen in other lobules (especially for frequency). Although the exact cerebellar mechanisms used during speech and language processing are not yet evident, these findings highlight the cerebellum’s role in word-level processing during continuous listening.

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Competing Interests

Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

Author notes

Handling Editor: Julie Fiez

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