The neurocognitive signature of focus alternatives.


Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Institute for German Language and Linguistics, Unter den Linden 6, 10099 Berlin, Germany. Electronic address: [Email]


Focus alternatives are words/phrases that can substitute for the focused constituent of an utterance. In "Carsten has picked [CHERRIES]F from the tree.", (marked by pitch focus on cherries), the speaker wants to not only convey the fact that Carsten has picked cherries, but also to contrast cherries with other fruit that could have been picked, such as plums. Although focus alternatives are key to understanding the implicit aspects of an utterance, nothing is known about their neural representation. We directly contrasted neural representations of lexico-semantic similarity and focus alternative status using fMRI. Semantic relatedness was reflected in decreased activation in the bilateral superior temporal gyri. By contrast, processing of focus alternatives induced increased activations in the precuneus and the fronto-median wall, two regions previously implicated in discourse processing. These results suggest that focus alternative status is processed separately from semantic relatedness, at the level of discourse integration.


Discourse processing,Focus alternatives,Fronto-median wall,Intonation focus,Pitch focus,Precuneus,Semantic priming,