The language network, comprised of brain regions in the left frontal and temporal cortex, responds robustly and reliably during language comprehension but shows little or no response during many nonlinguistic cognitive tasks (e.g., Fedorenko & Blank, 2020). However, one domain whose relationship with language remains debated is semantics—our conceptual knowledge of the world. Given that the language network responds strongly to meaningful linguistic stimuli, could some of this response be driven by the presence of rich conceptual representations encoded in linguistic inputs? In this study, we used a naturalistic cognition paradigm to test whether the cognitive and neural resources that are responsible for language processing are also recruited for processing semantically rich nonverbal stimuli. To do so, we measured BOLD responses to a set of ∼5-minute-long video and audio clips that consisted of meaningful event sequences but did not contain any linguistic content. We then used the intersubject correlation (ISC) approach (Hasson et al., 2004) to examine the extent to which the language network “tracks” these stimuli, that is, exhibits stimulus-related variation. Across all the regions of the language network, meaningful nonverbal stimuli elicited reliable ISCs. These ISCs were higher than the ISCs elicited by semantically impoverished nonverbal stimuli (e.g., a music clip), but substantially lower than the ISCs elicited by linguistic stimuli. Our results complement earlier findings from controlled experiments (e.g., Ivanova et al., 2021) in providing further evidence that the language network shows some sensitivity to semantic content in nonverbal stimuli.

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Competing Interests

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

Author notes

Handling Editor: Yanchao Bi

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