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Brain Lang. 2003 Jun;85(3):503-23.

Sensitivity to local sentence context information in lexical ambiguity resolution: evidence from left- and right-hemisphere-damaged individuals.

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  • 1School of Communication Sciences and Disorders and the Centre for Research on Language, Mind and Brain, McGill University, 1266 Pine Avenue West, Montreal, Que, Canada H3G 1A8.


Using a cross-modal semantic priming paradigm, the present study investigated the ability of left-hemisphere-damaged (LHD) nonfluent aphasic, right-hemisphere-damaged (RHD) and non-brain-damaged (NBD) control subjects to use local sentence context information to resolve lexically ambiguous words. Critical sentences were manipulated such that they were either unbiased, or biased toward one of two meanings of sentence-final equibiased ambiguous words. Sentence primes were presented auditorily, followed after a short (0 ms) or long (750 ms) interstimulus interval (ISI) by the presentation of a first- or second-meaning related visual target, on which subjects made a lexical decision. At the short ISI, neither patient group appeared to be influenced by context, in sharp contrast to the performance of the NBD control subjects. LHD nonfluent aphasic subjects activated both meanings of ambiguous words regardless of context, whereas RHD subjects activated only the first meaning in unbiased and second-meaning biased contexts. At the long ISI, LHD nonfluent aphasic subjects failed to show evidence of activation of either meaning, while RHD individuals activated first meanings in unbiased contexts and contextually appropriate meanings in second-meaning biased contexts. These findings suggest that both left (LH) and right hemisphere (RH) damage lead to deficits in using local contextual information to complete the process of ambiguity resolution. LH damage seems to spare initial access to word meanings, but initially impairs the ability to use context and results in a faster than normal decay of lexical activation. RH damage appears to initially disrupt access to context, resulting in an over-reliance on frequency in the activation of ambiguous word meanings.

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