Restrictive vs. non-restrictive composition: A magnetoencephalography study

Timothy Leffel, Miriam Lauter, Masha Westerlund, Liina Pylkkänen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recent research on the brain mechanisms underlying language processing has implicated the left anterior temporal lobe (LATL) as a central region for the composition of simple phrases. Because these studies typically present their critical stimuli without contextual information, the sensitivity of LATL responses to contextual factors is unknown. In this magnetoencephalography (MEG) study, we employed a simple question-answer paradigm to manipulate whether a prenominal adjective or determiner is interpreted restrictively, i.e., as limiting the set of entities under discussion. Our results show that the LATL is sensitive to restriction, with restrictive composition eliciting higher responses than non-restrictive composition. However, this effect was only observed when the restricting element was a determiner, adjectival stimuli showing the opposite pattern, which we hypothesise to be driven by the special pragmatic properties of non-restrictive adjectives. Overall, our results demonstrate a robust sensitivity of the LATL to high level contextual and potentially also pragmatic factors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1191-1204
Number of pages14
JournalLanguage, Cognition and Neuroscience
Issue number10
StatePublished - 2014


  • Composition
  • Left anterior temporal lobe
  • MEG
  • Pragmatics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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