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Do Individuals with Williams Syndrome have Bizarre Semantics? Evidence for Lexical Organization Using an On-Line Task

Authors
Journal
Cortex
0010-9452
Publisher
Elsevier
Publication Date
Volume
33
Issue
3
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1016/s0010-9452(08)70233-8
Disciplines
  • Linguistics

Abstract

Abstract Williams syndrome, a neurodevelopmental disorder, has attracted a great deal of debate concerning the purported intactness of language in the face of other serious cognitive deficits. As more in-depth studies of specific aspects of WS language have emerged, the notion of a preserved language module has been seriously challenged. Although WS vocabulary scores are often impressive, several investigators have claimed that WS semantics are aberrant. All studies hitherto have been based on off-line experiments which necessarily involve metalinguistic processes. This clearly affects the performance of individuals with cognitive deficits. We report here an on-line study probing the semantic structure of the WS lexicon, using a task — semantic priming — which minimises metalinguistic demands. We show that WS subjects display the same taxonomic/category and thematic/functional priming effects as normal controls. The results are discussed in terms of the differences between receptive and expressive language, as well as the fact that although semantic memory and the automatic access to semantic information for individual words is normal in WS, the integration of semantic information into sentence comprehension may be abnormal. The importance of online tasks to highlight such differences is stressed.

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