A case of "order insensitivity"? Natural and artificial language processing in a man with primary progressive aphasia.

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Zimmerer, V. C. ; Varley, R. A. (2015)
  • Subject: Artificial grammar learning, Configuration, Primary progressive aphasia, Syntax, Word order

Processing of linear word order (linear configuration) is important for virtually all languages and essential to languages such as English which have little functional morphology. Damage to systems underpinning configurational processing may specifically affect word-order reliant sentence structures. We explore order processing in WR, a man with primary progressive aphasia (PPA). In a previous report, we showed how WR showed impaired processing of actives, which rely strongly on word order, but not passives where functional morphology signals thematic roles. Using the artificial grammar learning (AGL) paradigm, we examined WR's ability to process order in non-verbal, visual sequences and compared his profile to that of healthy controls, and aphasic participants with and without severe syntactic disorder. Results suggested that WR, like some other patients with severe syntactic impairment, was unable to detect linear configurational structure. The data are consistent with the notion that disruption of possibly domain-general linearization systems differentially affects processing of active and passive sentence structures. Further research is needed to test this account, and we suggest hypotheses for future studies.
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