Some neurophysiological constraints on models of word naming

Neuroimage. 2005 Sep;27(3):677-93. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2005.04.029.


The pronunciation of irregular words in deep orthographies like English cannot be specified by simple rules. On the other hand, the fact that novel letter strings can be pronounced seems to imply the existence of such rules. These facts motivate dual-route models of word naming, which postulate separate lexical (whole-word) and non-lexical (rule-based) mechanisms for accessing phonology. We used fMRI during oral naming of irregular words, regular words, and nonwords, to test this theory against a competing single-mechanism account known as the triangle model, which proposes that all words are handled by a single system containing distributed orthographic, phonological, and semantic codes rather than word codes. Two versions of the dual-route model were distinguished: an 'exclusive' version in which activation of one processing route predominates over the other, and a 'parallel' version in which both routes are equally activated by all words. The fMRI results provide no support for the exclusive dual-route model. Several frontal, insular, anterior cingulate, and parietal regions showed responses that increased with naming difficulty (nonword > irregular word > regular word) and were correlated with response time, but there was no activation consistent with the predicted response of a non-lexical, rule-based mechanism (i.e., nonword > regular word > irregular word). Several regions, including the angular gyrus and dorsal prefrontal cortex bilaterally, left ventromedial temporal lobe, and posterior cingulate gyrus, were activated more by words than nonwords, but these 'lexical route' regions were equally active for irregular and regular words. The results are compatible with both the parallel dual-route model and the triangle model. 'Lexical route' regions also showed effects of word imageability. Together with previous imaging studies using semantic task contrasts, the imageability effects are consistent with semantic processing in these brain regions, suggesting that word naming is partly semantically-mediated.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Decision Making
  • Female
  • Fixation, Ocular
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Nerve Net / anatomy & histology
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Psycholinguistics
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Reading
  • Speech / physiology*