Where the mass counts: common cortical activation for different kinds of nonsingularity

J Cogn Neurosci. 2012 Apr;24(4):915-32. doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_00191. Epub 2012 Jan 20.


Typically, plural nouns are morphosyntactically marked for the number feature, whereas mass nouns are morphosyntactically singular. However, both plural count nouns and mass nouns can be semantically interpreted as nonsingular. In this study, we investigated the hypothesis that their commonality in semantic interpretation may lead to common cortical activation for these different kinds of nonsingularity. To this end, we examined brain activation patterns related to three types of nouns while participants were listening to a narrative. Processing of plural compared with singular nouns was related to increased activation in the left angular gyrus. Processing of mass nouns compared with singular count nouns was related to increased activity bilaterally in the superior temporal cortex and also in the left angular gyrus. No significant activation was observed in the direct comparison between plural and mass nouns. We conclude that the left angular gyrus, also known to be relevant for numerical cognition, is involved in the semantic interpretation of different kinds of nonsingularity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Cerebral Cortex / blood supply
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Discrimination, Psychological / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Mathematics*
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Psycholinguistics
  • Semantics*
  • Young Adult


  • Oxygen