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Brain Lang. 1992 Jul;43(1):121-47.

The use of pronoun anaphora and speaker mood in the interpretation of conversational utterances by right hemisphere brain-damaged patients.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA 02167.


Understanding utterances in conversations requires a listener to weigh the disparate pieces of information present in a discourse. In this study, we examined how right hemisphere brain-damaged (RHD) patients and non-brain-damaged control subjects interpreted responses to questions concerning the location of a person (e.g., "Where's Dad?"). Stimulus vignettes included variation on three factors relevant to discourse comprehension: the mood of a speaker, the plausibility of the answer to a question, and whether the answer contained an anaphoric pronoun linking the response to the preceding question. Relative to the control subjects, the RHD patients made greater than normal use of the presence/absence of an anaphoric pronoun in their utterance interpretations, less than normal use of the speaker's mood, and marginally less than normal use of a response's plausibility. These data show how RHD patients rely on their largely intact linguistic abilities when understanding discourse and how their comprehension goes awry due to their reduced appreciation of other essential aspects of natural communication. The discussion focuses on the variable roles of speaker mood, plausibility, and pronoun anaphora in supporting inferences about a speaker's intended meaning and on the selective nature of RHD patients' impairment in this domain.

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