Neural correlates of fine-grained meaning distinctions: An fMRI investigation of scalar quantifiers

Jiayu Zhan, Xiaoming Jiang, Stephen James Politzer-Ahles, Xiaolin Zhou

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Communication involves successfully deriving a speaker's meaning beyond the literal expression. Using fMRI, it was investigated how the listener's brain realizes distinctions between enrichment-based meanings and literal semantic meanings. The neural patterns of the Mandarin scalar quantifier you-de (similar to some in English) which implies the meanings not all and not most via scalar enrichment, with the specific quantifier shao-shu-de (similar to less than half in English) which lexico-semantically encodes the meanings not all and not most, were compared. Listeners heard sentences using either quantifier, paired with pictures in which either less than half, more than half, or all of the people depicted in the picture were doing the described activity; thus, the conditions included both implicature-based and semantics-based picture-sentence mismatches. Imaging results showed bilateral ventral IFG was activated for both kinds of mismatch, whereas basal ganglia and left dorsal IFG were activated uniquely for implicature-based mismatch. These findings suggest that resolving conflicts involving inferential aspects of meaning employs different neural mechanisms than the processing based on literal semantic meaning, and that the dorsal prefrontal/basal ganglia pathway makes a contribution to implicature-based interpretation. Furthermore, within the implicature-based conditions, different neural generators were implicated in the processing of strong implicature mismatch (you-de in the context of a picture in which “all” would have been true) and weak implicature mismatch (you-de in the context of a picture in which “most” would have been true), which may have important implications for theories of pragmatic comprehension. Hum Brain Mapp 38:3848–3864, 2017.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3848-3864
Number of pages17
JournalHuman Brain Mapping
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2017


  • fMRI
  • picture–sentence verification
  • pragmatics
  • scalar implicature
  • semantics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Radiological and Ultrasound Technology
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology

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