Semantic impairment in aphasia: a problem of control?

Bruna Tessaro*, Solène Hameau, Christos Salis, Lyndsey Nickels

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Purpose: The relationship between cognitive processes and language ability in aphasia has recently gained increasing attention, with some authors suggesting that control impairments may underlie difficulties with semantic tasks in aphasia. This paper aims to present an overview of the current research on the involvement of cognitive processes in semantic processing tasks and discuss the proposed relationship between cognitive control and semantic processing in aphasia. Method: The role of cognitive processes in semantic processing tasks commonly used in the aphasiology literature is discussed and two theoretical approaches to semantic processing that contribute to the understanding of the nature of semantic breakdown in aphasia are outlined. Finally, we examine the evidence put forward in the Controlled Semantic Cognition framework with regard to the interpretation of impaired performance on semantic processing tasks in people with aphasia. Result: Non-linguistic cognitive abilities such as working memory, inhibition and control are required by semantic processing tasks, in addition to access to conceptual information, making it difficult to dissociate these abilities. Several issues exist regarding the evidence put forward for a control deficit as the underlying cause of poor performance on semantic processing tasks in aphasia. Conclusion: It remains unclear whether impairment on semantic tasks in people with aphasia is related to problems with the representation and/or processing (activation/retrieval) of meaning or problems with cognitive control (or both). Further research is still needed to fully understand how non-linguistic cognitive processes interact with semantic processing, as well as clarify and consistency the definition of control.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)903-914
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Journal of Speech-Language Pathology
Issue number6
Early online date18 Oct 2022
Publication statusPublished - 2 Nov 2023


  • aphasia
  • semantics
  • cognitive-linguistic interactions


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