Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
We examined the abilities of aphasic patients to make grammaticality judgments on English sentences instantiating a variety of syntactic structures. Previous studies employing this metalinguistic task have suggested that aphasic patients typically perform better on grammaticality judgment tasks than they do on sentence comprehension tasks, a finding that has informed the current view that grammatical knowledge is relatively preserved in agrammatic aphasia. However, not all syntactic structures are judged equally accurately, and several researchers have attempted to provide explanatory principles to predict which structures will pose problems to agrammatic patients. One such proposal is Grodzinsky and Finkel's (1998) claim that agrammatic aphasics are selectively impaired in their ability to process structures involving traces of maximal projections. In this study, we tested this claim by presenting patients with sentences with or without such traces, but also varying the level of difficulty of both kinds of structures, assessed with reference to the performance of age-matched and young controls. We found no evidence that agrammatic aphasics, or any other subgroup, are selectively impaired on structures involving traces: Some judgments involving traces were made quite accurately, whereas other judgments not involving traces were made very poorly. Subgroup analyses revealed that patient groups and agematched controls had remarkably similar profiles of performance across sentence types, regardless of whether the patients were grouped based on Western Aphasia Battery classification, an independent screening test for agrammatic comprehension, or lesion site. This implies that the pattern of performance across sentence types does not result from any particular component of the grammar, or any particular brain region, being selectively compromised. Lesion analysis revealed that posterior temporal areas were more reliably implicated in poor grammaticality judgment performance than anterior areas, but poor performance was also observed with some anterior lesions, suggesting that areas important for syntactic processing are distributed throughout the left peri-sylvian region.