The role of Broca's area in regular past-tense morphology: An event-related potential study

Timothy Justus, Jary Larsen, Jennifer Yang, Paul de Mornay Davies, Nina Dronkers, Diane Swick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


It has been suggested that damage to anterior regions of the left hemisphere results in a dissociation in the perception and lexical activation of past-tense forms. Specifically, in a lexical-decision task in which past-tense primes immediately precede present-tense targets, such patients demonstrate significant priming for irregular verbs (spoke- speak), but, unlike control participants, fail to do so for regular verbs (looked- look). Here, this behavioral dissociation was first confirmed in a group of eleven patients with damage to the pars opercularis (BA 44) and pars triangularis (BA 45) of the left inferior frontal gyrus (i.e., Broca's area). Two conditions containing word-onset orthographic-phonological overlap (bead-bee, barge-bar) demonstrated that the disrupted regular-verb priming was accompanied by, and covaried with, disrupted ortho-phonological priming, regardless of whether prime stimuli contained the regular inflectional rhyme pattern. Further, the dissociation between impaired regular-verb and preserved irregular-verb priming was shown to be continuous rather than categorical; priming for weak-irregular verbs (spent-spend) was intermediate in size between that of regular verbs and strong verbs. Such continuous dissociations grounded in ortho-phonological relationships between present- and past-tense forms are predicted by single-system, connectionist approaches to inflectional morphology and not predicted by current dual-system, rule-based models. Event-related potential data demonstrated that N400 priming effects were intact for both regular and irregular verbs, suggesting that the absence of significant regular-verb priming in the response time data did not result from a disruption of lexical access, and may have stemmed instead from post-lexical events such as covert articulation, segmentation strategies, and/or cognitive control.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2011


  • Aphasia
  • Broca's area
  • Event-related potentials (ERP)
  • Inflectional morphology
  • Left inferior frontal gyrus (LIFG)
  • Regular and irregular past tense

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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