The Neural Substrate of Speech Act Recognition


Pragmatic competence demands linguistic, but also communicative, social and cognitive competence. Successful use of language in social interaction requires mutual understanding of the speaker’s intentions; without it, a conversation cannot proceed. The term speech act refers to what a speaker intends to accomplish when saying something. The purpose of this study was to contribute to the identification of the neural substrate of speech act recognition and to the characterization of the cognitive processes that may be involved. The recognition of speech acts resulted in greater activation of frontal regions, precuneus and posterior cingulate gyrus. From all cognitive and behavioral measures obtained, only the scores in mental flexibility predicted the change in blood oxygen level dependent (BOLD) signal in the precuneus. These results, support the idea that speech act recognition requires the inference of intention, executive functions, including memory and entails the activation of areas of social cognition that participate in several brain networks i.e., the Intention Processing, the Default Mode and Theory of Mind networks, and areas involved in planning and guiding behavior.