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Brain Lang. 1989 Oct;37(3):419-39.

Syntactic and semantic contributions to sentence comprehension in agrammatism.

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  • 1Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


Five aphasic subjects, who demonstrated agrammatic speech, and eight control subjects were presented with a sentence-picture matching task in which the factors of syntactic complexity, semantic reversibility, and sentence plausibility were independently varied. A subset of the sentences was patterned after that presented by A. Caramazza and E. Zurif (1976, Brain and Language, 5, 572-583) who concluded that Broca's aphasics rely on semantic constraints instead of syntactic information for sentence comprehension. Our aphasic subjects showed the same pattern of performance on this subset of sentences. However, the results from the full set of sentence materials we tested show that the aphasic subjects could perform some sentence level syntactic analyses, even when syntactic information conflicted with semantic constraints. The aphasic subjects correctly interpreted most active and passive sentences. They failed, however, to assign thematic roles and adjectives in center-embedded relative sentences, and instead relied on nonsyntactic information. These results show that both semantic and syntactic information contributed to sentence comprehension in the aphasic subjects we tested, in contrast to previous claims that syntactic and semantic processes are completely dissociated in this population.

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