Monthly
208 pp. per issue
8 1/2 x 11, illustrated
ISSN
0898-929X
E-ISSN
1530-8898
2014 Impact factor:
4.69

Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

April 2014, Vol. 26, No. 4, Pages 854-863
(doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_00514)
© 2014 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
When Three Is Not Some: On the Pragmatics of Numerals
Article PDF (477.02 KB)
Abstract

Both numerals and quantifiers (like some) have more than one possible interpretation (i.e., weak and strong interpretations). Some studies have found similar behavior for numerals and quantifiers, whereas others have shown critical differences. It is, therefore, debated whether they are processed in the same way. A previous fMRI investigation showed that the left inferior frontal gyrus is linked to the computation of the strong interpretation of quantifiers (derived by a scalar implicature) and that the left middle frontal gyrus and the medial frontal gyrus are linked to processing the mismatch between the strong interpretation of quantifiers and the context in which they are presented. In the current study, we attempted to characterize the similarities and differences between numbers and quantifiers by examining brain activation patterns related to the processing of numerals in these brain regions. When numbers were presented in a mismatch context (i.e., where their strong interpretation did not match the context), they elicited brain activations similar to those previously observed with quantifiers in the same context type. Conversely, in a match context (i.e., where both interpretations of the scalar item matched the context), numbers elicited a different activation pattern than the one observed with quantifiers: Left inferior frontal gyrus activations in response to the match condition showed decrease for numbers (but not for quantifiers). Our results support previous findings suggesting that, although they share some features, numbers and quantifiers are processed differently. We discuss our results in light of various theoretical approaches linked to the representation of numerals.