Composing lexical versus functional adjectives: Evidence for uniformity in the left temporal lobe

Linmin Zhang, Liina Pylkkänen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Featural information (e.g., color or shape) allows interlocutors to focus their attention on the specific items under discussion from the vast set of possibilities in the environment. Intriguingly, when they are used to modify and restrict nouns, adjectives can either carry featural information themselves (e.g., green car) or retrieve featural information from the context (e.g., somebody points at a car and claims that she has the same car or a different car). Do the processing of same/different car and green car share neural correlates? For the composition of nouns with feature-carrying adjectives, prior work revealed early compositional effects (roughly 200 ms after noun onset) in the left anterior temporal lobe. However, although we know that such effects do not extend to cases of numeral quantification, which add no conceptual features to the noun (e.g., two boats), we do not know whether they extend to functional adjectives that themselves introduce no features, but instead reference features in the context. To address this question, we measured magnetoencephalography (MEG) during the processing of five types of noun phrases (NPs): same NPs (e.g., same star), different NPs (e.g., different star), color NPs (e.g., green star), comparative NPs (e.g., larger star), and another NPs (e.g., another star). Our main finding was that between 185 to 240 ms after noun onset, same and different NPs patterned with the color NPs in their elicited left temporal lobe activity, and same NPs even trended toward higher amplitudes than the color NPs. This shows that the mechanism driving combinatory effects in the left temporal cortex does not require the input words to directly name conceptual features, as long as the words reference featural information in the context, and that overlapping neural correlates underlie the composition of featural information from both linguistic and nonlinguistic sources.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2309-2322
Number of pages14
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin and Review
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 2018


  • Language comprehension
  • Neuropsychology
  • Psycholinguistics
  • Semantics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


Dive into the research topics of 'Composing lexical versus functional adjectives: Evidence for uniformity in the left temporal lobe'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this