Neural correlates of quantity processing of Chinese numeral classifiers

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Abstract

Linguistic analysis suggests that numeral classifiers carry quantity information. However, previous neuroimaging studies have shown that classifiers did not elicit higher activation in the intraparietal sulcus (IPS), associated with representation of numerical magnitude, than tool nouns did. This study aimed to control the semantic attributes of classifiers and reexamine the underlying neural correlates. Participants performed a semantic distance comparison task in which they judged which one of the two items was semantically closer to the target. Processing classifiers elicited higher activation than tool nouns in the bilateral inferior parietal lobules (IPL), middle frontal gyri (MFG), right superior frontal gyrus (SFG), and left lingual gyrus. Conjunction analysis showed that the IPS was commonly activated for classifiers, numbers, dots, and number words. The results support that classifiers activate quantity representations, implicating that the system of classifiers is part of magnitude cognition. Furthermore, the results suggest that the IPS represents magnitude independent of notations.

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