Blog Archives

Treatment of Category Generation and Retrieval in Aphasia: Effect of Typicality of Category Items

Conclusion: Results of the present study supplement existing data on the effect of a semantically based treatment for lexical retrieval by manipulating the typicality of category examples.

from the Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research


Conflict and surrender during sentence processing: An ERP study of syntax-semantics interaction

Recent ERP studies report that implausible verb-argument combinations can elicit a centro-parietal P600 effect (e.g., “The hearty meal was devouring …”; Kim & Osterhout, 2005). Such eliciting conditions do not involve outright syntactic anomaly, deviating from previous reports of P600. Kim and Osterhout (2005) attributed such P600 effects to structural reprocessing that occurs when syntactic cues fail to support a semantically attractive interpretation (‘meal’ as the Agent of ‘devouring’) and the syntactic cues are overwhelmed; the sentence is therefore perceived as syntactically ill-formed. The current study replicated such findings and also found that altering the syntactic cues in such situations of syntax-semantics conflict (e.g., “The hearty meal would devour …”) affects the conflict’s outcome. P600s were eliminated when sentences contained syntactic cues that required multiple morphosyntactic steps to “repair”. These sentences elicited a broad, left-anterior negativity at 300–600 ms (LAN). We interpret the reduction in P600 amplitude in terms of “resistance” of syntactic cues to reprocessing. We speculate that the LAN may be generated by difficulty retrieving an analysis that satisfies both syntactic and semantic cues, which results when syntactic cues are strong enough to resist opposing semantic cues. This pattern of effects is consistent with partially independent but highly interactive syntactic and semantic processing streams, which often operate collaboratively but can compete for influence over interpretation.

from Brain and Language

Cortical organization of environmental sounds by attribute

Semantic knowledge is supported by a widely distributed neuronal network, with differential patterns of activation depending upon experimental stimulus or task demands. Despite a wide body of knowledge on semantic object processing from the visual modality, the response of this semantic network to environmental sounds remains relatively unknown. Here, we used fMRI to investigate how access to different conceptual attributes from environmental sound input modulates this semantic network. Using a range of living and manmade sounds, we scanned participants whilst they carried out an object attribute verification task. Specifically, we tested visual perceptual, encyclopedic, and categorical attributes about living and manmade objects relative to a high-level auditory perceptual baseline to investigate the differential patterns of response to these contrasting types of object-related attributes, whilst keeping stimulus input constant across conditions. Within the bilateral distributed network engaged for processing environmental sounds across all conditions, we report here a highly significant dissociation within the left hemisphere between the processing of visual perceptual and encyclopedic attributes of objects.

from Human Brain Mapping

Verbal short-term memory reflects the organization of long-term memory: Further evidence from short-term memory for emotional words

Many studies suggest that long-term lexical–semantic knowledge is an important determinant of verbal short-term memory (STM) performance. This study explored the impact of emotional valence on word immediate serial recall as a further lexico-semantic long-term memory (LTM) effect on STM. This effect is particularly interesting for the study of STM–LTM interactions since emotional words not only activate specific lexico-semantic LTM features but also capture attentional resources, and hence allow for the study of both LTM and attentional factors on STM tasks. In Experiments 1 and 2, we observed a robust effect of emotional valence on pure list recall in both young and elderly adults, with higher recall performance for emotional lists as opposed to neutral lists, as predicted by increased LTM support for emotional words. In Experiments 3 and 4 however, using mixed lists, it was the lists containing a minority of emotional words which led to higher recall performance over lists containing a majority of emotional words. This was predicted by a weak version of the attentional capture account. These data add new evidence to the theoretical position that LTM knowledge is a critical determinant of STM performance, with further, list type dependent intervention of attentional factors.

from the Journal of Memory and Language

Electrophysiological correlates of rapid auditory and linguistic processing in adolescents with specific language impairment

Brief tonal stimuli and spoken sentences were utilized to examine whether adolescents (aged 14;3–18;1) with specific language impairments (SLI) exhibit atypical neural activity for rapid auditory processing of non-linguistic stimuli and linguistic processing of verb-agreement and semantic constraints. Further, we examined whether the behavioral and electrophysiological indices for rapid auditory processing were correlated with those for linguistic processing. Fifteen adolescents with SLI and 15 adolescents with normal language met strict criteria for displaying consistent diagnoses from kindergarten through the eighth grade. The findings provide evidence that auditory processing for non-linguistic stimuli is atypical in a significant number of adolescents with SLI compared to peers with normal language and indicate that reduced efficiency in auditory processing in SLI is more vulnerable to rapid rates (200 ms ISI) of stimuli presentation (indexed by reduced accuracy, a tendency for longer RTs, reduced N100 over right anterior sites, and reduced amplitude P300). Many adolescents with SLI displayed reduced behavioral accuracy for detecting verb-agreement violations and semantic anomalies, along with less robust P600s elicited by verb-agreement violations. The results indicate that ERPs elicited by morphosyntactic aspects of language processing are atypical in many adolescents with SLI. Additionally, correlational analyses between behavioral and electrophysiological indices of processing non-linguistic stimuli and verb-agreement violations suggest that the integrity of neural functions for auditory processing may only account for a small proportion of the variance in morphosyntactic processing in some adolescents.

from Brain and Language

Neural correlates of semantic activation spreading on the path to picture naming in adults who stutter

The posterior N400 results point to a strategic, inhibitory influence on semantic activation spreading in AWS on the path to naming. Group differences in the amplitude of other ERP components tentatively suggest that AWS allocated attentional resources differently than the AWNS during the task. Preliminary ERP evidence of intact conceptual (as opposed to lexical-semantic) priming in the AWS is also discussed.

from Clinical Neurophysiology

Neural Aspects of Sentence Comprehension: Syntactic Complexity, Reversibility, and Reanalysis

Broca’s area is preferentially activated by reversible sentences with complex syntax, but various linguistic factors may be responsible for this finding, including syntactic movement, working-memory demands, and post hoc reanalysis. To distinguish between these, we tested the interaction of syntactic complexity and semantic reversibility in a functional magnetic resonance imaging study of sentence–picture matching. During auditory comprehension, semantic reversibility induced selective activation throughout the left perisylvian language network. In contrast, syntactic complexity (object-embedded vs. subject-embedded relative clauses) within reversible sentences engaged only the left inferior frontal gyrus (LIFG) and left precentral gyrus. Within irreversible sentences, only the LIFG was sensitive to syntactic complexity, confirming a unique role for this region in syntactic processing. Nonetheless, larger effects of reversibility itself occurred in the same regions, suggesting that full syntactic parsing may be a nonautomatic process applied as needed. Complex reversible sentences also induced enhanced signals in LIFG and left precentral regions on subsequent picture selection, but with additional recruitment of the right hemisphere homolog area (right inferior frontal gyrus) as well, suggesting that post hoc reanalysis of sentence structure, compared with initial comprehension, engages an overlapping but larger network of brain regions. These dissociable effects may offer a basis for studying the reorganization of receptive language function after brain damage.

from Cerebral Cortex

Language and Focal Brain Lesion in Childhood

Childhood ischemic strokes can lead to problems like hemiplegias, epilepsies, cognitive changes (memory and mathematical solutions), and language ability (reading, writing, and aphasias). The purpose of this study was to evaluate language and its aspects in children with unilateral ischemic stroke and associate them with the age during the event, injured side, and occurrence of epilepsy. Thirty-two children between 8 months and 19 years of age were evaluated. Among them, 21 (65%) had a change in their language skills, there being a connection between age and the time of injury (P < .05). The most impaired aspects were their phonology, semantics, and syntax. In this sample, there was a persistent change in the semantic aspect, which is an alert for the early detection of learning and future development problems.

from the Journal of Child Neurology

Neural differences in the processing of semantic relationships across cultures

The current study employed functional MRI to investigate the contribution of domain-general (e.g. executive functions) and domain-specific (e.g. semantic knowledge) processes to differences in semantic judgments across cultures. Previous behavioral experiments have identified cross-cultural differences in categorization, with East Asians preferring strategies involving thematic or functional relationships (e.g. cow-grass) and Americans preferring categorical relationships (e.g. cow-chicken). East Asians and American participants underwent functional imaging while alternating between categorical or thematic strategies to sort triads of words, as well as matching words on control trials. Many similarities were observed. However, across both category and relationship trials compared to match (control) trials, East Asians activated a frontal-parietal network implicated in controlled executive processes, whereas Americans engaged regions of the temporal lobes and the cingulate, possibly in response to conflict in the semantic content of information. The results suggest that cultures differ in the strategies employed to resolve conflict between competing semantic judgments.

from Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience

An fMRI study of sentence-embedded lexical-semantic decision in children and adults

Lexical-semantic knowledge is a core language component that undergoes prolonged development throughout childhood and is therefore highly amenable to developmental studies. Most previous lexical-semantic functional MRI (fMRI) studies have been limited to single-word or word-pair tasks, outside a sentence context. Our objective was to investigate the development of lexical-semantic language networks in typically developing children using a more ‘ecological’ sentence-embedded semantic task that permitted performance monitoring while minimizing head movement by avoiding overt speech. Sixteen adults and 23 children completed two fMRI runs of an auditory lexical-semantic decision task with a button-press response, using reverse speech as control condition. Children and adults showed similar activation in bilateral temporal and left inferior frontal regions. Greater activation in adults than in children was seen in left inferior parietal, premotor, and inferior frontal regions, and in bilateral supplementary motor area (SMA). Specifically for semantically incongruous sentences, adults also showed greater activation than children in left inferior frontal cortex, possibly related to enhanced ‘top-down’ control. Age-dependent activation increases in motor-related regions were shown to be unrelated to overt motor responses, but could be associated with covert speech accompanying semantic decision. Unlike previous studies, age-dependent differences were not detected in posterior sensory cortices (such as extrastriate cortex), nor in middle temporal gyrus.

from Brain and Language

Are Proper Names Rigid Designators?

A widely accepted thesis in the philosophy of language is that natural language proper names are rigid designators, and that they are so de jure, or as a matter of the “semantic rules of the language.” This paper questions this claim, arguing that rigidity cannot be plausibly construed as a property of name types and that the alternative, rigidity construed as a property of tokens, means that they cannot be considered rigid de jure; rigidity in this case must be viewed as a pragmatic and not a semantic property.

from Axiomathes

fMRI responses to words repeated in a congruous semantic context are abnormal in mild Alzheimer’s disease

A distributed network of mostly left-hemisphere structures, which are putative P600 generators, appears important for successful verbal encoding (with New > Old responses to congruous words in normal elderly). This network appears dysfunctional in mild AD patients, as reflected in decreased word repetition effects particularly in left association cortex, paralimbic and MTL structures.

from Neuropsychologia

Language disorders in children with central nervous system injury

Children with injury to the central nervous system (CNS) exhibit a variety of language disorders that have been described by members of different disciplines, in different journals, using different descriptors and taxonomies. This paper is an overview of language deficits in children with CNS injury, whether congenital or acquired after a period of normal development. It first reviews the principal CNS conditions associated with language disorders in childhood. It then describes a functional taxonomy of language, with examples of the phenomenology and neurobiology of clinical deficits in children with CNS insults. Finally, it attempts to situate language in the broader realm of cognition and in current theoretical accounts of embodied cognition.

from the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neurophysiology

Figurative language processing after traumatic brain injury in adults: A preliminary study

Figurative speech (e.g., proverb, irony, metaphor, and idiom) has been reported to be particularly sensitive to measurement of abstract thinking in patients who suffer from impaired abstraction and language abilities. Metaphor processing was investigated with fMRI in adults with moderate to severe post-acute traumatic brain injury (TBI) and healthy age-matched controls using a valence-judgment task. We hypothesized that TBI patients would display decreased activation of the left inferior frontal gyrus (LIFG), which is considered central to semantic memory retrieval and abstract thought, in comparison with healthy controls. We also predicted that decreased activation in TBI individuals would correlate with their behavioral response times. A whole-brain analysis across the two participant groups revealed that patients did not strongly engage frontal and temporal regions related to semantic processing for novel metaphor comprehension, whereas control participants exhibited more intensive and concentrated activation within frontal and temporal areas. A region of interest (ROI) analysis verified that the LIFG was underactivated in TBI patients compared to controls across all conditions. TBI patients’ impaired abstraction of novel stimuli may stem from reduced prefrontal control of semantic memory as well as disrupted interconnectivity of prefrontal cortex with other regions.

from Neuropsychologia

Electrophysiological insights into the processing of nominal metaphors

We used event-related potentials (ERPs) to examine the time-course of processing metaphorical and literal sentences in the brain. ERPs were measured to sentence-final (Experiment 1) and mid-sentence (Experiment 2) critical words (CWs) as participants read and made plausibility judgments about familiar nominal metaphors (“A is a B”) as well as literal and semantically anomalous sentences of the same form. Unlike the anomalous words, which evoked a robust N400 effect (on the CW in experiments 1 and 2 as well as on the sentence-final word in experiment 2), CWs in the metaphorical, relative to the literal, sentences only evoked an early, localized N400 effect that was over by 400 ms after CW onset, suggesting that, by this time, their metaphorical meaning had been accessed. CWs in the metaphorical sentences also evoked a significantly larger LPC (Late Positive Component) than in the literal sentences. We suggest that this LPC reflected additional analysis that resolved a conflict between the implausibility of the literal sentence interpretation and the match between the metaphorical meaning of the CW, the context and stored information within semantic memory, resulting from early access to both literal and figurative meanings of the CWs.

from Neuropsychologia