Switching Language Modes: Complementary Brain Patterns for Formulaic and Propositional Language

John J. Sidtis, Diana Van Lancker Sidtis, Vijay Dhawan, David Eidelberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Language has been modeled as a rule governed behavior for generating an unlimited number of novel utterances using phonological, syntactic, and lexical processes. This view of language as essentially propositional is expanding as a contributory role of formulaic expressions (e.g., you know, have a nice day, how are you?) is increasingly recognized. The basic features of the functional anatomy of this language system have been described by studies of brain damage: left lateralization for propositional language and greater right lateralization and basal ganglia involvement for formulaic expressions. Positron emission tomography (PET) studies of cerebral blood flow (CBF) have established a cortical-subcortical pattern of brain activity predictive of syllable rate during phonological/lexical repetition. The same analytic approach was applied to analyzing brain images obtained during spontaneous monologues. Sixteen normal, right-handed, native English speakers underwent PET scanning during several language tasks. Speech rate for the repetition of phonological/lexical items was predicted by increased CBF in the left inferior frontal region and decreased CBF in the head of the right caudate nucleus, replicating previous results. A complementary cortical-subcortical pattern (CBF increased in the right inferior frontal region and decreased in the left caudate) was predictive of the use of speech formulas during monologue speech. The use of propositional language during the monologues was associated with strong left lateralization (increased CBF at the left inferior frontal region and decreased CBF at the right inferior frontal region). Normal communication involves the integration of two language modes, formulaic and novel, that have different neural substrates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)189-196
Number of pages8
JournalBrain Connectivity
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 2018


  • basal ganglia
  • language
  • laterality
  • performance-based analysis
  • positron emission tomography
  • speech formulas

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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