How Does the Left Anterior Temporal Lobe Contribute to Conceptual Combination? Interdisciplinary Perspectives

Masha Westerlund, Liina Pylkkänen

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Within the cognitive neuroscience of language, the left anterior temporal lobe (LATL) is one of the most consistent loci for semantic effects; yet its precise role in semantic processing remains unclear. Here we focus on a literature showing that the LATL is modulated by semantic composition even in the simplest of cases, suggesting that it has a central role in the construction of complex meaning. We show that while the LATL’s combinatory contribution generalizes across several linguistic factors, such as composition type and word order, it is also robustly modulated by conceptual factors such as the specificity of the composing words. These findings suggest that the LATL’s role in composition is at the conceptual as opposed to the syntactic or logico-semantic level, making formal semantic theories of composition less obviously useful for guiding future research on the LATL. For an alternative theoretical foundation, this chapter seeks to connect LATL research to psychological models of conceptual combination, which potentially offer a more fruitful space of hypotheses to constrain our understanding of the computations housed in the LATL. We conclude that, though currently available data on the LATL do not rule out relation-based models, they are most consistent with schema-based models of conceptual combination, with the LATL potentially representing the site of concept schema activation and modification.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationLanguage, Cognition, and Mind
PublisherSpringer Nature
Number of pages22
StatePublished - 2017

Publication series

NameLanguage, Cognition, and Mind
ISSN (Print)2364-4109
ISSN (Electronic)2364-4117

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Language and Linguistics


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