Word retrieval is core to language production and relies on complementary processes: the rapid activation of lexical and conceptual representations and word selection, which chooses the correct word among semantically related competitors. Lexical and conceptual activation is measured by semantic priming. In contrast, word selection is indexed by semantic interference and is hampered in semantically homogeneous (HOM) contexts. We examined the spatiotemporal dynamics of these complementary processes in a picture naming task with blocks of semantically heterogeneous (HET) or HOM stimuli. We used electrocorticography data obtained from frontal and temporal cortices, permitting detailed spatiotemporal analysis of word retrieval processes. A semantic interference effect was observed with naming latencies longer in HOM versus HET blocks. Cortical response strength as indexed by high-frequency band (HFB) activity (70-150 Hz) amplitude revealed effects linked to lexical-semantic activation and word selection observed in widespread regions of the cortical mantle. Depending on the subsecond timing and cortical region, HFB indexed semantic interference (i.e., more activity in HOM than HET blocks) or semantic priming effects (i.e., more activity in HET than HOM blocks). These effects overlapped in time and space in the left posterior inferior temporal gyrus and the left prefrontal cortex. The data do not support a modular view of word retrieval in speech production but rather support substantial overlap of lexical-semantic activation and word selection mechanisms in the brain.
Keywords: cortical high-frequency band activity; electrocorticography; language production; semantic interference; word retrieval.