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Behavioural Neurology
Volume 24, Issue 4, Pages 265-276

Taxonomic and Thematic Organisation of Proper Name Conceptual Knowledge

Sebastian J. Crutch and Elizabeth K. Warrington

Dementia Research Centre, Department of Neurodegeneration, UCL Institute of Neurology, University College London, London, UK

Received 31 October 2011; Accepted 31 October 2011

Copyright © 2011 Hindawi Publishing Corporation and the authors. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


We report the investigation of the organisation of proper names in two aphasic patients (NBC and FBI). The performance of both patients on spoken word to written word matching tasks was inconsistent, affected by presentation rate and semantic relatedness of the competing responses, all hallmarks of a refractory semantic access dysphasia. In a series of experiments we explored the semantic relatedness effects within their proper name vocabulary, including brand names and person names. First we demonstrated the interaction between very fine grain organisation and personal experience, with one patient with a special interest in the cinema demonstrating higher error rates when identifying the names of actors working in a similar film genre (e.g. action movies: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone, Mel Gibson) than those working in different genres (e.g. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gregory Peck, Robin Williams, Gene Kelly). Second we compared directly two potential principles of semantic organisation – taxonomic and thematic. Furthermore we considered these principles of organisation in the context of the individuals' personal knowledge base. We selected topics matching the interests and experience of each patient, namely cinema and literature (NBC) and naval history (FBI). The stimulus items were arranged in taxonomic arrays (e.g. Jane Austen, Emily Bronte, Agatha Christie), thematic arrays (e.g. Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, Mr Darcy), and unrelated arrays (e.g. Jane Austen, Wuthering Heights, Hercule Poirot). We documented that different patterns of taxonomic and thematic organisation were constrained by whether the individual has limited knowledge, moderate knowledge or detailed knowledge of a particular vocabulary. It is suggested that moderate proper name knowledge is primarily organised by taxonomy whereas extensive experience results in a more detailed knowledge base in which theme is a powerful organising principle.