The classifier problem in Chinese aphasia

Ovid J.L. Tzeng, Sylvia Chen, Daisy L. Hung

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


In recent years, research on the relationship between brain organization and language processing has benefited tremendously from cross-linguistic comparisons of language disorders among different types of aphasic patients. Results from these cross-linguistic studies have shown that the same aphasic syndromes often look very different from one language to another, suggesting that language-specific knowledge is largely preserved in Broca's and Wernicke's aphasics. In this paper, Chinese aphasic patients were examined with respect to their (in) ability to use classifiers in a noun phrase. The Chinese language, in addition to its lack of verb conjugation and an absence of noun declension, is exceptional in yet another respect: articles, numerals, and other such modifiers cannot directly precede their associated nouns, there has to be an intervening morpheme called a classifier. The appropriate usage of nominal classifiers is considered to be one of the most difficult aspects of Chinese grammar. Our examination of Chinese aphasic patients revealed two essential points. First, Chinese aphasic patients experience difficulty in the production of nominal classifiers, committing a significant number of errors of omission and/or substitution. Second, two different kinds of substitution errors are observed in Broca's and Wernicke's patients, and the detailed analysis of the difference demands a rethinking of the distinction between agrammatism and paragrammatism. The result adds to a growing body of evidence suggesting that grammar is impaired in fluent as well as nonfluent aphasia.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)184-202
Number of pages19
JournalBrain and Language
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 1991


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