Neuropsychological research showing that the regular (“jump–jumped”) and irregular (“drive/drove”) past tense inflectional morphology can dissociate following brain damage has been important in testing claims about the cognitive and neural status of linguistic rules. These dissociations have been interpreted as evidence for two different computational systems—a rule-based system underlying the processing of regulars and the irregulars being individually listed in the mental lexicon. In contrast, connectionist accounts claim that these dissociations can be modeled within a single system. Combining behavioral data from patients with detailed information about their neuropathology can, in principle, provide strong constraints on accounts of the past tense. In this study, we tested five nonfluent aphasic patients, all of whom had extensive left hemisphere (LH) damage involving the left inferior frontal gyrus and underlying structures, and four patients with semantic deficits following herpes simplex encephalitis (HSE) who had extensive damage to the inferior temporal cortex. These patients were tested in experiments probing past tense processing. In a large priming study, the nonfluent patients showed no priming for the regular past tense but significant priming for the irregulars (whereas controls show priming for both). In contrast, the HSE patients showed significantly impaired performance for the irregulars in an elicitation task. These patterns of behavioral data and neuropathology suggest that two separable but interdependent systems underlie processing of the regular and irregular past tense.

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