I'm teaching a graduate course next quarter on semantics and the brain. It's my annual, 'I need to know more about this topic so I might as well learn out loud and get teaching credit for doing it' course. I thought it might be fun to post readings and discussion summaries on this blog. So if anyone wants to follow along and join the discussion, you are welcome to! Our Winter quarter here at UC Irvine starts the week of Jan. 7 and runs for 10 weeks. We will emphasize semantic dementia, as this seems to be the syndrome du jour for understanding semantic functions, but we will also look at functional imaging, aphasia, recent computational models, etc.
My working hypothesis is that semantic dementia involves a general conceptual-semantic deficit (i.e., not specific to language). This is different than the kind of lexical semantic interface system that David and I talk about, which really is concerned specifically with lexical semantic linkages to phonological representations. This idea may reconcile the opposing views regarding "semantic" processing in the anterior temporal lobe based on data from semantic dementia (a la Sophie Scott and Richard Wise) vs. in the posterior temporal lobe based on data from aphasia (as we and others have argued). Specifically, posterior temporal systems may be more lexical-semantic, interfacing semantic systems with lexical-phonological representations, whereas anterior temporal systems may involve more general conceptual-semantic operations beyond the language system. Hopefully, based on readings in this course, we will be able to confirm or refute this working hypothesis.