Musical and linguistic syntactic processing in agrammatic aphasia: An ERP study

Brianne Chiappetta*, Aniruddh D. Patel, Cynthia K. Thompson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Language and music rely on complex sequences organized according to syntactic principles that are implicitly understood by enculturated listeners. Across both domains, syntactic processing involves predicting and integrating incoming elements into higher-order structures. According to the Shared Syntactic Integration Resource Hypothesis (SSIRH; Patel, 2003), musical and linguistic syntactic processing rely on shared resources for integrating incoming elements (e.g., chords, words) into unfolding sequences. One prediction of the SSIRH is that people with agrammatic aphasia (whose deficits are due to syntactic integration problems) should present with deficits processing musical syntax. We report the first neural study to test this prediction: event-related potentials (ERPs) were measured in response to musical and linguistic syntactic violations in a group of people with agrammatic aphasia (n = 7) compared to a group of healthy controls (n = 14) using an acceptability judgement task. The groups were matched with respect to age, education, and extent of musical training. Violations were based on morpho-syntactic relations in sentences and harmonic relations in chord sequences. Both groups presented with a significant P600 response to syntactic violations across both domains. The aphasic participants presented with a reduced-amplitude posterior P600 compared to the healthy controls in response to linguistic, but not musical, violations. Participants with aphasia did however present with larger frontal positivities in response to violations in both domains. Intriguingly, extent of musical training was associated with larger posterior P600 responses to syntactic violations of language and music in both groups. Overall, these findings are not consistent with the predictions of the SSIRH, and instead suggest that linguistic, but not musical, syntactic processing may be selectively impaired in stroke-induced agrammatic aphasia. However, the findings also suggest a relationship between musical training and linguistic syntactic processing, which may have clinical implications for people with aphasia, and motivates more research on the relationship between these two domains.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number101043
JournalJournal of Neurolinguistics
StatePublished - May 2022


  • Agrammatic Aphasia
  • Event-Related Potential (ERP)
  • Morpho-syntax
  • Musical Syntax
  • P600
  • Shared Syntactic Integration Resource Hypothesis (SSIRH)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Linguistics and Language


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