Some words immediately and automatically remind us of odours, smells and scents, whereas other language items do not evoke such associations. This study investigated, for the first time, the abstract linking of linguistic and odour information using modern neuroimaging techniques (functional MRI). Subjects passively read odour-related words (‘garlic’, ‘cinnamon’, ‘jasmine’) and neutral language items. The odour-related terms elicited activation in the primary olfactory cortex, which include the piriform cortex and the amygdala. Our results suggest the activation of widely distributed cortical cell assemblies in the processing of olfactory words. These distributed neuron populations extend into language areas but also reach some parts of the olfactory system. These distributed neural systems may be the basis of the processing of language elements, their related conceptual and semantic information and the associated sensory information.