Semantic CategorySpecific Anomia

Though reports of both category-specific sparing and deficits arose earlier than the seminal work of Warrington in the 1970s, Warrington and her colleagues brought attention to the increasing number of reports that words from different semantic categories may be unequally affected in aphasia. They began a series of systematic investigations into the selective preservation and impairment of semantic categories, seeking the best way to understand the islands of impairment that their patients exhibited. In early work they focused on the abstract versus concrete dimension and then later focused on the natural versus manmade object dimension. Many studies of semantic-category-specific deficits followed. Although at first it appeared that these more broadly defined categories captured the nature of the impairments in these patients, it became apparent through studies reported by other investigators that many exceptions arose that could not be readily incorporated into such broad categories. For instance, reports surfaced of patients with selective impairments in finding the names of fruits and vegetables but no other living things, impairments of only animal names, and selective impairments of naming facial emotional expressions. To further complicate the issue, there is a loose correspondence between lesion location and the nature of the semantic impairment, such that lesions both inside and outside the classical zone of language produce semantic category impairments, for example, an animal-naming deficit associated with the left inferotemporal region and a tool-naming deficit associated with the left parietal region. However, it is difficult to argue that these impairments arise with any consistency when a particular region is involved. Semantic-category impairments are intriguing both as behavioral phenomena and as challenges to models of language representation in the brain; however, we are still quite a long way from understanding them.

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