The on-line processing of verb-phrase ellipsis in aphasia

Josée Poirier*, Lewis P. Shapiro, Tracy Love, Yosef Grodzinsky

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


We investigate the on-line processing of verb-phrase ellipsis (VPE) constructions in two brain injured populations: Broca's and Anomic aphasics. VPE constructions are built from two simple clauses; the first is the antecedent clause and the second is the ellipsis clause. The ellipsis clause is missing its verb and object (i.e., its verb phrase (VP)), which receives its reference from the fully specified VP in the antecedent clause. VPE constructions are unlike other sentence types that require displacement of an argument NP; these latter constructions (e.g., object-relatives, wh-questions) yield either on-time or delayed antecedent reactivation. Our results demonstrate that Anomics, like unimpaired individuals, evince reactivation of the direct object NP (within the VP) at the elided position. Broca's patients, on the other hand, do not show reactivation of the antecedent. We consider several interpretations for our data, including explanations focusing on the larger 'grain size' of the reconstructed material in the ellipsis clause, the properties of the auxiliary that carries tense and agreement features, and the possibility that the cost-free syntactic copy procedure claimed to underlie VPE may be modulated by the functional deficit in Broca's aphasia.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)237-253
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Psycholinguistic Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2009
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgements This research was partially supported by NIH grant DC000494 and by the Sheila and Jeffrey Lipinsky Family Fellowship (Poirier). We thank the individuals with aphasia who participated in our research program, as well as their family members. Thanks also to the research assistants in the Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory at SDSU and the Laboratory for Research on Aphasia and Stroke at UCSD. Finally, we acknowledge the long-lasting contributions of David Swinney.


  • Aphasia
  • Aphasia classification
  • Sentence processing
  • Verb-phrase ellipsis


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