The Representation of Words in the Brain:
Clues from Neuropsychology and Neuroimaging
How is knowledge of words – their form, their meaning, their grammatical properties – organized and represented in the mind/brain? Categories like Noun and Verb represent the basic units of grammar in all human languages, and the retrieval of categorical information is an essential step in language production and comprehension. Studies of brain-damaged patients have shown that knowledge of nouns and verbs can be impaired selectively. The forms of selective impairment can be remarkably fine-grained: words of one grammatical category can be impaired only at the level of meaning or of form, only in production or only in comprehension, and only in spoken or in written language. This rich pattern of dissociations reveals an unexpected organization of the lexical system, and provides a biologically constrained framework for the interpretation of neuroimaging research aimed at understanding the neural correlates of grammatical class information.