The On-Line Processing of Verb-Phrase Ellipsis in Aphasia

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We investigate the on-line processing of verb-phrase ellipsis (VPE) constructions in two brain injured populations: Broca's and Anomic aphasics. VPE constructions are built from two simple clauses; the first is the antecedent clause and the second is the ellipsis clause. The ellipsis clause is missing its verb and object (i.e., its verb phrase (VP)), which receives its reference from the fully specified VP in the antecedent clause. VPE constructions are unlike other sentence types that require displacement of an argument NP; these latter constructions (e.g., object-relatives, wh-questions) yield either on-time or delayed antecedent reactivation. Our results demonstrate that Anomics, like unimpaired individuals, evince reactivation of the direct object NP (within the VP) at the elided position. Broca's patients, on the other hand, do not show reactivation of the antecedent. We consider several interpretations for our data, including explanations focusing on the larger ‘grain size’ of the reconstructed material in the ellipsis clause, the properties of the auxiliary that carries tense and agreement features, and the possibility that the cost-free syntactic copy procedure claimed to underlie VPE may be modulated by the functional deficit in Broca's aphasia.

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