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Semantic processing of Chinese in left inferior prefrontal cortex studied with reversible words

Elsevier Inc.
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2004.07.008
  • Semantic Retrieval
  • Executive Control
  • Phonological Processing
  • Fmri
  • Linguistics


This study utilized fast event-related fMRI with reversible words to examine the role of left inferior prefrontal cortex (PFC) in semantic processing of Chinese. As a special linguistic phenomenon in Chinese, a reversible word is a two-character word (AB) that, when read from right to left (BA), opposite to the normal left to right reading direction, is also a real word. The two words, AB and BA, can have very different meanings. Fourteen native Chinese saw a reversible word (BA) and were asked to read it backward silently to obtain the meaning of AB, defined as the target meaning. They then saw two test words and decided which of the two was semantically related to the target meaning. Activity in a subregion of BA47 was found to be modulated by the extent to which irrelevant semantic activation of the distractor word BA interfered with semantic retrieval of the target word AB. This finding demonstrated the involvement of the left inferior PFC in the control processes of semantic retrieval in Chinese. In addition, comparing conditions using reversible with that using nonreversible words, we found evidence suggesting a semantic/phonological functional subdivision in left inferior PFC, consistent with that in English.

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