Speaking in the Brain: The Interaction between Words and Syntax in Sentence Production

Atsuko Takashima, Agnieszka Konopka, Antje Meyer, Peter Hagoort*, Kirsten Weber

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


This neuroimaging study investigated the neural infrastructure of sentence-level language production. We compared brain activation patterns, as measured with BOLD-fMRI, during production of sentences which differed in verb argument structures (intransitives, transitives, ditransitives) and the lexical status of the verb (known verbs or pseudo-verbs). The experiment consisted of 30 mini-block of six sentences each. Each mini-block started with an example for the type of sentence to be produced in that block. On each trial in the mini-blocks, participants were first given the (pseudo-) verb followed by three geometric shapes to serve as verb arguments in the sentences. Production of sentences with known verbs yielded greater activation compared to sentences with pseudo-verbs in the core language network of the left inferior frontal gyrus, the left posterior middle temporal gyrus, and a more posterior middle temporal region extending into the angular gyrus (LpMTG/AG), analogous to effects observed in language comprehension. Increasing the number of verb arguments led to greater activation in an overlapping LpMTG/AG area,particularly for known verbs, as well as in the bilateral precuneus. Thus, producing sentences with
more complex structures using existing verbs lead to increased activation in the language network, suggesting some reliance on memory retrieval of stored lexical-syntactic information during sentence production. This study thus provides evidence from sentence-level language production in line with functional models of the language network that have so far been mainly based on single word production, comprehension and language processing in aphasia.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1466-1483
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Issue number8
Early online date30 Jun 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2020

Bibliographical note

We would like to thank Maarten van den Heuvel for help with the presentation scripts, Vera van 't Hoff for help with the collection and transcription of the data, and Birgit Knudsen for the transcription of the data.
Reprint requests should be sent to Peter Hagoort, Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, 6500 AH Nijmegen, The Netherlands, or via e-mail: peha@mpi.nl.


  • Language
  • Neuroimaging
  • Speaking
  • Syntax
  • Verbs


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