Deficits on irregular verbal morphology in Italian-speaking Alzheimer's disease patients

Matthew Walenski, Katiuscia Sosta, Stefano Cappa, Michael T. Ullman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Studies of English have shown that temporal-lobe patients, including those with Alzheimer's disease, are spared at processing real and novel regular inflected forms (e.g., walk → walked; blick → blicked), but impaired at real and novel irregular forms (e.g., dig → dug; spling → splang). Here we extend the investigation cross-linguistically to the more complex system of Italian verbal morphology, allowing us to probe the generality of the previous findings in English, as well as to test different explanatory accounts of inflectional morphology. We examined the production of real and novel regular and irregular past-participle and present-tense forms by native Italian-speaking healthy control subjects and patients with probable Alzheimer's disease. Compared to the controls, the patients were impaired at inflecting real irregular verbs but not real regular verbs both for past-participle and present-tense forms, but were not impaired at real regular verbs either for past-participle or present-tense forms. For novel past participles, the patients exhibited this same pattern of impaired production of class II (irregular) forms but spared class I (regular) production. In the present-tense, patients were impaired at the production of class II forms (which are regular in the present-tense), but spared at production of class I (regular) forms. Contrary to the pattern observed in English, the errors made by the patients on irregulars did not reveal a predominance of regularization errors (e.g., dig → digged). The findings thus partly replicate prior findings from English, but also reveal new patterns from a language with a more complex morphological system that includes verb classes (which are not possible to test in English). The demonstration of an irregular deficit following temporal-lobe damage in a language other than English reveals the cross-linguistic generality of the basic effect, while also elucidating important language-specific differences in the neurocognitive basis of regular and irregular morphological forms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1245-1255
Number of pages11
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2009


  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Declarative memory
  • Irregular morphology
  • Italian
  • Morphology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology


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