Pronominal Resolution and Gap Filling in Agrammatic Aphasia: Evidence from Eye Movements

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This paper reports the results of three studies examining comprehension and real-time processing of pronominal (Experiment 1) and Wh-movement (Experiments 2 and 3) structures in agrammatic and unimpaired speakers using eyetracking. We asked the following questions: (a) Is off-line comprehension of these constructions impaired in agrammatic listeners?, (b) Do agrammatic, like unimpaired, listeners show eye movement patterns indicative of automatic pronominal reference resolution and/or gap-filling?, and (c) Do eyetracking patterns differ when sentences are correctly versus incorrectly interpreted, or do automatic processes prevail in spite of comprehension failure? Results showed that off-line comprehension of both pronoun and Wh-movement structures was impaired in our agrammatic cohort. However, the aphasic participants showed visual evidence of real-time reference resolution as they processed binding structures, including both pronouns and reflexives, as did our unimpaired control participants. Similarly, both the patients and the control participants showed patterns consistent with successful gap filling during processing of Wh-movement structures. For neither pronominal nor movement structures did we find evidence of delayed processing. Notably, these patterns were found for the aphasic participants even when they incorrectly interpreted target sentences, with the exception of object relative constructions. For incorrectly interpreted sentences, we found end of sentence lexical competition effects. These findings indicate that aberrant lexical integration, rather than representational deficits or generally slowed processing, may underlie agrammatic aphasic listener's comprehension failure.

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