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Syntactic preservation in Alzheimer's disease

By Daniel Kempler, Susan Curtiss and Catherine Jackson


Language ability of 20 patients with probable Alzheimer's disease (AD) was evaluated. Analysis of spontaneous speech revealed a normal range and frequency of syntactic constructions but poor lexical use. A writing task showed a similar divergence, with the ability to use syntactic cues significantly more intact than the ability to use semantic cues. The results are taken to indicate that syntactic ability is selectively preserved in AD. These findings are consistent with a modular theory of grammar and of mental functions more generally. A tentative explanation of these phenomena is proposed in which the overlearned and automatic nature of syntactic ability helps account for its resilience to cognitive dissolution and cortical degeneration. Recent research on adult language breakdown has addressed the issue of the potential independence of syntactic processes from semantic functions primarily by investigating the extent to which syntax appears to be impaired selectively in classical syndromes of focal aphasia. Broca's aphasia has been described as "agrammatism," a syndrome whieh impairs an individual's ability to use nonlexical grammatical markers and perhaps other syntactic devices to comprehend and produce languag

Year: 1987
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