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Lexical organization of nouns and verbs in the brain

Abstract

THE analysis of neuropsychological disorders of lexical processing has provided important clues about the general organization of the lexical system and the internal structure of the processing components1–3. Reports of patients with selective dysfunction of specific semantic categories such as abstract versus concrete words4–6, living things versus inanimate objects7–11, animals12–14, fruits and vegetables15, proper names16,17 and so forth, support the hypothesis that the neural organization of the semantic processing component is organized in these categories. There are reports of selective dysfunction of the grammatical categories noun and verb18–21, suggesting that a dimension of lexical organization is the grammatical class of words. But the results reported in these studies have not provided unambiguous evidence concerning two fundamental questions about the nature and the locus of this organization within the lexical system. Is the noun–verb distinction represented in the semantic or in the phonological and orthographic lexicons? Is grammatical-class knowledge represented independently of lexical forms or is it represented separately and redundantly within each modality-specific lexicon? Here we report the performance of two brain-damaged subjects with modality-specific deficits restricted principally (H.W.) or virtually only (S.J.D) to verbs in oral and written production, respectively. The contrasting performance suggests that grammatical-class distinctions are redundantly represented in the phonological and orthographic output lexical components.

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