The neural substrates of complex argument structure representations: Processing "alternating transitivity" verbs

Aya Meltzer-Asscher*, Julia Schuchard, Dirk Bart den Ouden, Cynthia K. Thompson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

21 Scopus citations


This study examines the neural correlates of processing verbal entries with multiple argument structures using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). We compared brain activation in response to "alternating transitivity" verbs, corresponding to two different verbal alternates-one transitive and one intransitive-and simple verbs, with only one, intransitive, thematic grid. Fourteen young healthy participants performed a lexical decision task with the two verb types. Results showed significantly greater activation in the angular and supramarginal gyri (Brodmann areas (BAs) 39 and 40) extending to the posterior superior and middle temporal gyri bilaterally, for alternating compared to simple verbs. Additional activation was detected in bilateral middle and superior frontal gyri (BAs 8 and 9). The opposite contrast, simple compared to alternating verbs, showed no significant differential activation in any regions of the brain. These findings are consistent with previous studies implicating a posterior network including the superior temporal, supramarginal, and angular gyri for processing verbs with multiple thematic roles, as well as with those suggesting involvement of the middle and superior frontal gyri in lexical ambiguity processing. However, because "alternating transitivity" verbs differ from simple intransitives with regard to both the number of thematic grids (two vs. one) and the number of thematic roles (two vs. one), our findings do not distinguish between activations associated with these two differences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1154-1168
Number of pages15
JournalLanguage and Cognitive Processes
Issue number8
StatePublished - Oct 1 2013



  • Argument structure
  • Verbs
  • fMRI

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Education
  • Linguistics and Language

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