Semenza, C., & Zettin, M. (1989). Evidence from aphasia for the role of proper names as pure referring expressions. Nature, 342, 678-679.

The patient LS

The 41 year old patient who worked in a hardware store suffered a head injury in a riding accident.


No neurological signs or psychiatric pathology.

Mild word finding difficulties.

Within a few months the only residual effect was "a dramatic inability to retrieve proper names spontaneously or on formal testing.    This deficit affected only oral and written word retrieval 678" -  auditory  comprehension and reading of proper names was intact.

Evaluation methods and results

He obtained normal scores on standard tests of visual recognition and faces, spatial imagery, STM and LTM (with name exceptions).  He performed well on standard linguistic tasks.

Confrontation naming

Show pictures quickly and ask for names; many standardized lists, computer diagnostic programs.

LS showed no errors for category words  "cat", "pen" --common nouns.

LS had entirely different performance with proper names-- very poor.

Naming deficits

Only had use of family names relearned after accident.


He seemed to refer to  others descriptively, "doctor" , "prime minister" but not by name.


LS showed poor reference by name to places and music,, even when he knew much about them.


Semantic but not phonological priming helped somewhat.  "Tell me who discovered America.  HE has the name of a bird." [columbo is pidgeon in Italian, maybe?]


He could generate "anyone's name" but performance dropped with restrictions --narrowed access. "Name one musician."

He was able to learn lists but very poor at paired-associate learning--arbitrary learning of one word with another "bird-paper"....."bird-?".


At work he had difficulty learning catalog part numbers.

The diagnosis -- an inability to retrieve purely referential non descriptive semantic relations

Frege and "pure referring expressions"

According to Frege's distinction, proper names just carry 'reference', that is they denote the individuals or the entities that are called by them, but have no 'sense', that is, they do not describe any property or imply any attribute.  They are the opposite of 'descriptions', what have senses and which encompass  all common nouns. 679.  Meaningless labels, which is what pure referring expressions are, could indeed need an independent system to take care of them; in LS this system would be disrupted."

About Frege

Gottlob Frege (1848-1925)

Frege is credited today with pointing out the obvious fact that two linguistic expressions, e.g. NPs can refer to the same thing or entity yet have a different meaning.  For example both "George Washington" and "the first president of the USA" refer to the same individual but one expression does not mean the same as the other in the sense of combinatorial semantics wherein the meaning of the expression is a function of the meaning of individual morphemes in their syntactic structure.  Frege's famous example compared the sense of the expressions Morning Star and Evening Star with their referents--in this case both referred to the planet Venus.


In English proper names and to some extent pronouns do not have a sense --only a referent.  Nicknames however often have a meaningful element – Fatso, Red….


(Here's an example -- how the 2008 Illlinois quarterback got his nickname "Juice."

''He was so big, he looked like he was about 6 months old,'' said his mother, Anita. ''My mother-in-law said, 'Girl, that boy's so big and fat, I'm going to call him my juicy baby.' We've been calling him Juice ever since.''


Historically many surnames did have a meaningful element – Baker, Riverside, Johnson. Limber did not!

Referring expressions - is that a name or a description?

John Limber is not limber.

Poor Dumblowski!  (student in my high school  class.)

Recall the idea of "coreference" -- two NPs can co-refer to the same object, idea, etc. yet not be the same phrase.

Referring phrases

x-bar structure in UG- a head X surrounded by accomplices and modifiers

NP structure in English- NP->det N (modifiers including clauses)

NP referring expressions : Examples - same reference, different senses



The instructor of 712 this semester

The father of Kristin

The person in the room who remembers Dimaggio.

NP sense without reference?

The oldest psychology professor on Mars.

Incidental or attributive phrases-- may or may not have referents

The person in the room.who remembers Abe Lincoln gets a prize. (Does anybody get a prize?)

The person who hit my car deserves a big fine.


Compare and contrast the above with "Whoever hit my car deserves a big fine."

Names, reference, sense and semantics

There are many issues of importance to semantics tangled up in these distinctions. Readers of Frege's papers often come away with different understandings. Many others have tried to clarify them without much success.

For example, in the above list of NP referring expressions each phrase may make a different contribution to the truth of its sentences. And changes in meaning and truth are often used as methods of semantic analysis.

"The instructor of 712 this semester will have to add a few extra students." Consider this sentence-- can all the other referring expressions above be substituted and retain the same meaning for the overall sentence?

What about "Janice believes that the intructor of 712 this semester will have to add a few extra students."?



Other data on naming

Activation is shown both in right visual areas (identifying pictures) and left frontal areas -- finding the name for it.

fMRI demonstrates a left lateralized neuronal network for naming processes involving the parieto-temporo-occipital, middle frontal, mesial frontal, and fusioform gyri. These areas of activations correspond to regions known to be sensitive to naming from cortical mapping (e.g.Ojemann) experiments.

The presentation of irregularly shaped objects with no name stimulates similar areas that do not involve linguistic or verbal memory areas, and its subtraction may reveal more pure naming neuronal networks