Modeling the meaning of words: Neural correlates of abstract and concrete noun processing

Frida Mårtensson, Mikael Roll, Pia Apt, Merle Horne

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We present a model relating analysis of abstract and concrete word meaning in terms of semantic features and contextual frames within a general framework of neurocognitive information processing. The approach taken here assumes concrete noun meanings to be intimately related to sensory feature constellations. These features are processed by posterior sensory regions of the brain, e.g. the occipital lobe, which handles visual information. The interpretation of abstract nouns, however, is likely to be more dependent on semantic frames and linguistic context. A greater involvement of more anteriorly located, perisylvian brain areas has previously been found for the processing of abstract words. In the present study, a word association test was carried out in order to compare semantic processing in healthy subjects (n=12) with subjects with aphasia due to perisylvian lesions (n=3) and occipital lesions (n=1). The word associations were coded into different categories depending on their semantic content. A double dissociation was found, where, compared to the controls, the perisylvian aphasic subjects had problems associating to abstract nouns and produced fewer semantic frame-based associations, whereas the occipital aphasic subject showed disturbances in concrete noun processing and made fewer semantic feature based associations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)455-478
JournalActa Neurobiologiae Experimentalis
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2011

Bibliographical note

The information about affiliations in this record was updated in December 2015.
The record was previously connected to the following departments: Linguistics and Phonetics (015010003)

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • General Language Studies and Linguistics


  • mental lexicon
  • abstract words
  • concrete words
  • semantic frames
  • semantic features
  • neurocognition
  • aphasia


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