Willems, R. M., & Hagoort, P. (in press). Cortical motor contributions to language understanding. In L. Hermer (Ed.), Contributions of primary sensory and motor cortices to higher cognitive processes. Research Signpost Press.
Here we review evidence from cognitive neuroscience for a tight relation between language and action in the brain. We focus on two types of relation between language and action. First, we investigate whether the perception of speech and speech sounds leads to activation of parts of the cortical motor system also involved in speech production. Second, we evaluate whether understanding action-related language involves the activation of parts of the motor system. We conclude that whereas there is considerable evidence that understanding language can involve parts of our motor cortex, this relation is best thought of as inherently flexible. As we explain, the
exact nature of the input as well as the intention with which language is perceived influences whether and how motor cortex plays a role in language processing.