Inflection across Categories: Tracking Abstract Morphological Processing in Language Production with MEG

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Coherent language production requires that speakers adapt words to their grammatical contexts. A fundamental challenge in establishing a functional delineation of this process in the brain is that each linguistic process tends to correlate with numerous others. Our work investigated the neural basis of morphological inflection by measuring magnetoencephalography during the planning of inflected and uninflected utterances that varied across several linguistic dimensions. Results reveal increased activity in the left lateral frontotemporal cortex when inflection is planned, irrespective of phonological specification, syntactic context, or semantic type. Additional findings from univariate and connectivity analyses suggest that the brain distinguishes between different types of inflection. Specifically, planning noun and verb utterances requiring the addition of the suffix -s elicited increased activity in the ventral prefrontal cortex. A broadly distributed effect of syntactic context (verb vs. noun) was also identified. Results from representational similarity analysis indicate that this effect cannot be explained in terms of word meaning. Together, these results 1) offer evidence for a neural representation of abstract inflection that separates from other stimulus properties and 2) challenge theories that emphasize semantic content as a source of verb/noun processing differences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1721-1736
Number of pages16
JournalCerebral Cortex
Issue number8
StatePublished - Apr 15 2022


  • magnetoencephalography
  • morphological inflection
  • nouns
  • production
  • verbs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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