Many languages, including English and Spanish, feature regular (dance → danced) and irregular (catch → caught) inflectional systems. According to psycholinguistic theories, regular and irregular inflections are instantiated either by a single or by two specialized mechanisms. Those theories differ in their assumptions concerning the underlying information necessary for the processing of regular verbs. Whereas single mechanism accounts have stated an increased involvement of phonological processing for regular verbs, dual accounts emphasize the prominence of grammatical information. Using event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging, we sought to delineate the brain areas involved in the generation of complex verb forms in Spanish. This language has the advantage of isolating specific differences in the regular-irregular contrasts in terms of the number of stems associated with a verb while controlling for compositionality (regular and irregular verbs apply suffixes to be inflected). The present study showed that areas related to grammatical processing are active for both types of verbs (left opercular inferior frontal gyrus). In addition, major differences between regular and irregular verbs were also observed. Several areas of the prefrontal cortex were selectively active for irregular production, presumably reflecting their role in lexical retrieval (bilateral inferior frontal area and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex). Regular verbs, however, showed increased activation in areas related to grammatical processing (anterior superior temporal gyrus/insular cortex) and in the left hippocampus, the latter possibly related to a greater implication of the phonological loop necessary for the reutilization of the same stem shared across all forms in regular verbs.
Research Areas and Centers
- Academic Focus: Center for Brain, Behavior and Metabolism (CBBM)