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Semenza BL 2000 Compounds

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Semenza BL 2000 Compounds
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  Brain and Language  71,  221–223 (2000)doi:10.1006/brln.1999.2254, available online at http://www.idealibrary.com on Compound Words: A Challenge for Aphasiology Carlo Semenza  Department of Psychology, University of Trieste, Italy Compounds are a type of word whose theoretical status is ill-defined andwhose processing is not well accounted for in comparison with that of simplewords. Formal linguistics, despite accurate cross-language descriptions, isstill in the position of finding hard to distinguish between a compound anda phrase (Spencer, 1991). In psycholinguistics, compounding is hardly men-tioned at all in most accounts of lexical representations and their retrieval(see Levelt, Roelofs, & Meyer, 1999, who, however, do not provide muchempirical evidence, mostly remaining on the theoretical side). Only recently,indeed, a few investigations have provided data on the role of factors liketransparency (of both the whole word and its components) and headedness(e.g., Libben, 1997), mostly through the employment of priming techniques.While details on the recognition side now begin to be known, the productionside is still very much unexplored. A series of recent findings in aphasiologyproved, however, to be relevant for a better understanding of the events oc-curring in lexical retrieval from the ‘‘lemma,’’ i.e., the level where lexicalconcepts get syntactic specification, to the ‘‘lexeme’’ level, where the phono-logical form is retrieved. A brief summary of these findings may be takenas indicative on what directions future research could take.A first, repeatedly replicated, finding is that aphasics significantly substi-tute compound words for compound targets and single word for single wordtargets in picture naming tasks (Hittmair-Delazer et al., 1994, Semenza etal., 1997). It thus appears that the knowledge of the compound status of aword is truly independent from the ability to retrieve the phonological form.A patient was found (Delazer and Semenza, 1998) with a specific difficultyfor compound words and not for single words. The patient tended to substi-tute one or both components in two-word compounds. The phenomenon was Address correspondence and reprint requests to Carlo Semenza, Department of Psychology,University of Trieste, via dell’Universita` 8, 34123 Trieste, Italy. E-mail: semenza@univ.trieste.it.2210093-934X/00 $35.00 Copyright  󰂩  2000 by Academic PressAll rights of reproduction in any form reserved.  222  MILLENNIUM ISSUE thought to be the consequence of a difficulty in retrieving two lemmas witha singlelexical entry.Evidence forthis interpretationwasthe lack of compre-hension problems and the fact that wrong answers were nonetheless, an ac-ceptable description of the concept. The lack of positional effect in substitu-tion errors was interpreted as evidence of a parallel activation of thecomponents.Another interesting finding (Semenza et al., 1997) came from a study inItalian. Broca’s aphasics, who are known for dropping more often verbs thannouns in their limited output, were found to drop more frequently the verbcomponent of the verb/noun compounds, that in Italian are nouns: this hasbeen viewed as demonstrating decomposition at some point before the lex-eme level.The retrieval of a particular type of compounds, the prepositional com-pounds (PC), has been the object of a case study by Mondini et al. (1997).PC are typical neolatin noun–noun modifications, wherea head noun is mod-ified by a prepositional phrase (e.g., the Italian ‘‘mulino a vento,’’ windmill). In these compounds the linking preposition is often syntactically andsemantically opaque. This is a compelling reason to consider PC as fullylexicalized items likely to be processed as a unit. Mondini et al.’s patient,however, made several errors on the linking preposition of PC, even inopaque cases. Mondini et al. explained this finding, suggesting that a singlelexical entry corresponding to the PC is activated after the conceptual level;the activation would however concern, at the same time, the syntactic func-tions of the lemma of the wholePC andindependent lemmasfor each compo-nent of the compound.In conclusion, exploring linguistic production in the relatively limited do-main of compounds, though, for example, collection and analysis of errors,may be, at present time, exceedingly laborious in normal subjects. Aphasicpatients, on the other hand, can provide researchers with copious errors ineasily controlled experimental settings. The analysis of these errors can berevealing vis-a`-vis psycho-linguistic theories. What we may then expect forthe future is that properly selected cases will provide increasing amount of information on how multiple lexical units are processed. In particular, infor-mation will be gathered about the role played by the whole-word representa-tion and by the representations of each part of the complex word, at all levels,from the abstract concept to fully specified phonology in single word re-trieval but also in generating fluent, connected speech. The study of com-pound words thus represents a future challenge for psycholinguistics, but,because of the path opened by the above mentioned case reports, a moreimmediate challenge for aphasiology. REFERENCES Delazer, M., & Semenza, C. 1998. The processing of compound words: A study in aphasia.  Brain and Language,  61,  54–62.  MILLENNIUM ISSUE  223 Hittmair-Delazer, M., Semenza, C., De Bleser, R., & Benke, T. 1994. Naming by Germancompounds.  Journal of Neurolinguistics,  8,  1, 27–41.Levelt, W. J. M., Roelofs, A., & Mayer, A. S. 1999. A theory of lexical access in speechproduction.  Behavioral and Brain Sciences,  22 (1), 1–75.Libben, G. 1997. Semantic transparency and compound structure. CLASNET working papers,9, 1, 13.Mondini, S., Luzzatti, C., Semenza, C., & Calza, A. 1997. Prepositional compounds are sensi-tive to agrammatism: Consequences for models of lexical retrieval.  Brain and Language, 60,  78–80.Semenza, C., Luzzatti, C., & Carabelli, S. 1997. Morphological representation of compoundnouns: A study in Italian Aphasic patients.  Journal of Neurolinguistic,  10,  33–43.Spencer, A. 1991.  Morphological theory.  Oxford: Blackwell.
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