Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Ten participants learned a miniature language (Anigram), which they later employed to verbally describe a pictured event. Using magnetoencephalography, the cortical dynamics of sentence production in Anigram was compared with that in the native tongue from the preparation phase up to the production of the final word. At the preparation phase, a cartoon image with two animals prompted the participants to plan either the corresponding simple sentence (e.g., “the bear hits the lion”) or a grammar-free list of the two nouns (“the bear, the lion”). For the newly learned language, this stage induced stronger left angular and adjacent inferior parietal activations than for the native language, likely reflecting a higher load on lexical retrieval and STM storage. The preparation phase was followed by a cloze task where the participants were prompted to produce the last word of the sentence or word sequence. Production of the sentence-final word required retrieval of rule-based inflectional morphology and was accompanied by increased activation of the left middle superior temporal cortex that did not differ between the two languages. Activation of the right temporal cortex during the cloze task suggested that this area plays a role in integrating word meanings into the sentence frame. The present results indicate that, after just a few days of exposure, the newly learned language harnesses the neural resources for multiword production much the same way as the native tongue and that the left and right temporal cortices seem to have functionally different roles in this processing.