Semantic grounding of novel spoken words in the primary visual cortex

Garagnani, M.; Kirilina, E. and Pulvermüller, F.. 2021. Semantic grounding of novel spoken words in the primary visual cortex. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 15, 581847. ISSN 1662-5161 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Embodied theories of grounded semantics postulate that, when word meaning is first acquired, a link is established between symbol (word form) and corresponding semantic information present in modality-specific – including primary – sensorimotor cortices of the brain. Direct experimental evidence documenting the emergence of such a link (i.e., showing that presentation of a previously unknown, meaningless word sound induces, after learning, category specific reactivation of relevant primary sensory or motor brain areas), however, is still missing. Here, we present new neuroimaging results that provide such evidence.

We taught participants aspects of the referential meaning of previously unknown, senseless novel spoken words (such as “Shruba” or “Flipe”) by associating them with either a familiar action or a familiar object. After training, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging to analyse the participants’ brain responses to the new speech items. We found that hearing the newly learnt object-related word sounds selectively triggered activity in primary visual cortex, as well as secondary and higher visual areas.

These results for the first time directly document the formation of a link between novel, previously meaningless spoken items and corresponding semantic information in primary sensory areas in a category specific manner, providing experimental support for perceptual accounts of word meaning acquisition in the brain.

Item Type:

Article

Identification Number (DOI):

https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2021.581847

Keywords:

embodied cognition, word learning, language acquisition, action-perception circuit, conceptual category

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Computing

Dates:

DateEvent
25 January 2021Accepted
24 February 2021Published

Item ID:

29673

Date Deposited:

26 Jan 2021 11:50

Last Modified:

19 Aug 2021 13:50

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.

URI:

https://research.gold.ac.uk/id/eprint/29673

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