Children can learn the meaning of a new word from context during normal reading or listening, without any explicit instruction. It is unclear how such meaning acquisition is supported and achieved in human brain. In this functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study we investigated neural networks supporting word learning with a functional connectivity approach. Participants were exposed to a new word presented in two successive sentences and needed to derive the meaning of the new word. We observed two neural networks involved in mapping the meaning to the new word. One network connected the left inferior frontal gyrus (LIFG) with the middle frontal gyrus (MFG), medial superior frontal gyrus, caudate nucleus, thalamus, and inferior parietal lobule. The other network connected the left middle temporal gyrus (LMTG) with the MFG, anterior and posterior cingulate cortex. The LIFG network showed stronger interregional interactions for new than real words, whereas the LMTG network showed similar connectivity patterns for new and real words. We proposed that these two networks support different functions during word learning. The LIFG network appears to select the most appropriate meaning from competing candidates and to map the selected meaning onto the new word. The LMTG network may be recruited to integrate the word into sentential context, regardless of whether the word is real or new. The LIFG and the LMTG networks share a common node, the MFG, suggesting that these two networks communicate in working memory.

Original languageEnglish
JournalHuman Brain Mapping
Issue number7
Pages (from-to)1081-1090
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 01.07.2011

Research Areas and Centers

  • Academic Focus: Center for Brain, Behavior and Metabolism (CBBM)


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