Concrete Spatial Language: See What I Mean?

Brain Lang. 2005 Mar;92(3):221-33. doi: 10.1016/j.bandl.2004.06.106.


Conveying complex mental scenarios is at the heart of human language. Advances in cognitive linguistics suggest this is mediated by an ability to activate cognitive systems involved in non-linguistic processing of spatial information. In this fMRI-study, we compare sentences with a concrete spatial meaning to sentences with an abstract meaning. Using this contrast, we demonstrate that sentence meaning involving motion in a concrete topographical context, whether linked to animate or inanimate subjects nouns, yield more activation in a bilateral posterior network, including fusiform/parahippocampal, and retrosplenial regions, and the temporal-occipital-parietal junction. These areas have previously been shown to be involved in mental navigation and spatial memory tasks. Sentences with an abstract setting activate an extended largely left-lateralised network in the anterior temporal, and inferior and superior prefrontal cortices, previously found activated by comprehension of complex semantics such as narratives. These findings support a model of language, where the understanding of spatial semantic content emerges from the recruitment of brain regions involved in non-linguistic spatial processing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adult
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Parahippocampal Gyrus / physiology
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Semantics*
  • Space Perception / physiology*