A psychometric analysis of functional categoryproduction in English agrammatic narratives

Document Type


Journal/Book Title/Conference

Brain and Language





Publication Date


First Page


Last Page



Hierarchical models of agrammatism propose that sentence production deficits can be accounted for in terms of clausal syntactic structure (Friedmann and Grodzinsky, 1997, Hagiwara, 1995). Such theories predict that morpho-syntactic elements associated with higher nodes in the syntactic tree (complementizers and verb inflections) will be more impaired than elements associated with lower structural positions (negation markers and aspectual verb forms). While this hypothesis has been supported by the results of several studies (Friedmann and Grodzinsky, 1997, Hagiwara, 1995), it has also been challenged on several grounds (Burchert et al., 2005a, Lee, 2003, Lee et al., 2005). In this paper the question of hierarchical structure was re-examined within the framework of Item Response Theory (IRT, Rasch, 1980). IRT is a probabilistic model widely used in the field of psychometrics to model behavioral constructs as numeric variables. In this study we examined production of functional categories (complementizers, verb inflections, negation markers, and aspectual verb forms) in narrative samples elicited from 18 individuals diagnosed with nonfluent aphasia and 18 matched controls. Data from the aphasic participants were entered into an IRT analysis to test (1) whether production of clausal functional categories can be represented as a variable on a numeric scale; and (2) whether production patterns were consistent with hierarchical syntactic structure. Pearson r correlation coefficients were also computed to determine whether there was a relation between functional category production and other indices of language performance. Results indicate that functional category production can be modeled as a numeric variable using IRT. Furthermore, although variability was observed across individuals, consistent patterns were evident when the data were interpreted within a probabilistic framework. Although functional category production was moderately correlated with a second measure of clausal structure (clause length), it was not correlated with more distant language constructs (noun/verb ratio and WAB A.Q.). These results suggest that functional category production is related to some, but not all, measures of agrammatic language performance.

This document is currently not available here.