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Poster C27, Thursday, November 9, 10:00 – 11:15 am, Harborview and Loch Raven Ballrooms

Comprehension of sentences with structurally defined gaps in primary progressive aphasia: Evidence from eye-tracking

Matthew Walenski1, Jennifer E. Mack1, M. Marsel Mesulam2, Cynthia K. Thompson1,2,3;1Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA, 2Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA, 3Department of Neurology, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA

Introduction. Primary progressive aphasia (PPA) is a degenerative disease affecting language while leaving other cognitive facilities relatively unscathed (Mesulam, et al. 2012). Here we focus on logopenic (PPA-L) and agrammatic (PPA-G) subtypes of the disorder. The logopenic subtype is characterized by impaired repetition, naming, and word finding, whereas the agrammatic subtype presents with agrammatic language production and impaired comprehension of non-canonical syntactic structures, but spared single word comprehension (Gorno-Tempini, et al. 2011). Non-canonically ordered sentences subvert the dominant agent-verb-theme order of arguments in English, such that the theme precedes the verb. For example, in an object relative clause (The boy that the girl saw [gap] is …), the theme argument (boy) is extracted from the [gap] position, preceding its verb (saw) and the agent argument (girl). In a subject relative clause (The girl that [gap] saw the boy is …), the dominant agent-verb-theme order is preserved. In this study we examine the comprehension of both sentence types in PPA by recording eye movements-while-listening. Method. Ten participants with PPA-G, 10 with PPA-L, and 15 matched healthy controls participated in the study. Participants listened to 32 four-sentence stories (1), with either a subject-relative (1a) or object relative clause (1b), comprising the final critical sentence. (1) One day a bride and groom were walking in the mall. The bride was feeling playful, so the bride tickled the groom. A clerk was amused. a) Point to the one that [gap] was tickling the groom in the mall. b) Point to the one that the bride was tickling [gap] in the mall For each story, we created an array with pictures of the sentence elements (e.g., bride, groom, mall, clerk). The correct picture choice corresponded to the gap-antecedent (e.g., bride in 1a; groom in 1b). Participants’ eye movements to the critical sentence were recorded and they chose the correct picture by computer mouse. Results. For the subject relative sentences, looks to the extracted argument (e.g., bride) increased similarly in all three groups following the gap. For the object relative sentences, all three groups made anticipatory looks to the extracted argument (e.g., groom) before the gap, though the two PPA groups had a (similarly) delayed onset of these looks relative to controls. After the gap, controls and PPA-L participants showed an increased rate of looks to the extracted argument, whereas the PPA-G participants evinced an abnormal decrease in looks to the extracted argument. Conclusions. We argue that these results are consistent with previous work in stroke-induced agrammatic aphasia that gap-filling proceeds normally in PPA-G and further confirms the hypothesis that agrammatic comprehension deficits reflect impaired thematic integration (Thompson and Choy 2009). References Gorno-Tempini, et al. (2011). "Classification of primary progressive aphasia and its variants." Neurology 76: 1006-1014. Mesulam, M. M., et al. (2012). "Quantitative classification of primary progressive aphasia at early and mild impairment stages." Brain 135(Pt 5): 1537-1553. Thompson, C. and J. J. Choy (2009). "Pronominal Resolution and Gap Filling in Agrammatic Aphasia : Evidence from Eye Movements." Journal of Psycholingustic Research 38(3): 255-283.

Topic Area: Language Disorders

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