Effects of syllable structure in aphasic errors: implications for a new model of speech production

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Current models of word production assume that words are stored as linear sequences of phonemes which are structured into syllables only at the moment of production. This is because syllable structure is always recoverable from the sequence of phonemes. In contrast, we present theoretical and empirical evidence that syllable structure is lexically represented. Storing syllable structure would have the advantage of making representations more stable and resistant to damage. On the other hand, re-syllabifications affect only a minimal part of phonological representations and occur only in some languages and depending on speech register. Evidence for these claims comes from analyses of aphasic errors which not only respect phonotactic constraints, but also avoid transformations which move the syllabic structure of the word further away from the original structure, even when equating for segmental complexity. This is true across tasks, types of errors, and, crucially, types of patients. The same syllabic effects are shown by apraxic patients and by phonological patients who have more central difficulties in retrieving phonological representations. If syllable structure was only computed after phoneme retrieval, it would have no way to influence the errors of phonological patients. Our results have implications for psycholinguistic and computational models of language as well as for clinical and educational practices.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)151-192
Number of pages42
JournalCognitive Psychology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2011


  • error analyses, phonological errors, aphasic errors, syllable structure, lexical representations

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