Frontal Mechanisms in Language Pragmatics: Neuropsychological and Electrophysiological Evidence
AdvisorGarrett, Merrill F
Committee ChairGarrett, Merrill F
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractWhereas some researchers claim that the holistic processing of the right hemisphere is essential for contextual integration in language pragmatics (Myers, 2001, Myers, 2005), results of other studies point to involvement of executive processes of the frontal lobes (McDonald & Pearce, 1998; Bernicot & Dardier, 2001). This study examined the role of frontal lobes in language pragmatics by testing performance of young adults and older adults on selected standardized pragmatic inferences called 'implicitures'. Implicitures were first presented free-standing and then embedded in contexts that either supported (enabling contexts) or cancelled (cancelling contexts) their preferred meaning. First, implicitures were examined using behavioral reaction time measures in young adults. The second part of the project addressed the question about involvement of frontal lobes in language pragmatics by testing older adults with varying degrees of frontal function on processing of implicitures. Finally, event-related potential responses to implicitures with and without context in young adults were explored. Results revealed a strong relationship between frontal lobes and performance on implicitures in canceling contexts in older adults. There was no significant effect for free-standing implicitures and implicitures presented in enabling contexts. In addition, an N400 was observed to free-standing implicitures, but implicitures in context elicited a negative component in the later 400 ms window at the anterior sites. These results indicate that frontal lobes are important for pragmatic processing requiring integration of linguistic context with an utterance for the correct interpretation. Consequences of our findings for models of impliciture processing and accounts of neural architecture underlying language pragmatics are considered.