Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Two coordinated experiments using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) investigated whether the brain represents language form (grammatical structure) separately from its meaning content (semantics). While in the scanner, 14 young, unimpaired adults listened to simple sentences that were either nonanomalous or contained a grammatical error (for example, *Trees can grew.), or a semantic anomaly (for example, *Trees can eat.). A same/different tone pitch judgment task provided a baseline that isolated brain activity associated with linguistic processing from background activity generated by attention to the task and analysis of the auditory input. Sites selectively activated by sentence processing were found in both hemispheres in inferior frontal, middle, and superior frontal, superior temporal, and temporo-parietal regions. Effects of syntactic and semantic anomalies were differentiated by some nonoverlapping areas of activation: Syntactic anomaly triggered significantly increased activity in and around Broca's area, whereas semantic anomaly activated several other sites anteriorly and posteriorly, among them Wernicke's area. These dissociations occurred when listeners were not required to attend to the anomaly. The results confirm that linguistic operations in sentence processing can be isolated from nonlinguistic operations and support the hypothesis of a specialization for syntactic processing.