"I remember you, but not your name" The brain and proper name retreival

Prof. dr. Carlo Semenza

University of Trieste, Italy

Abstract

Proper names are important in every day life. Forgetting them is a very common source of embarrassment, increasingly more frequent with aging. Their difference with common names has been matter of philosophical speculations and linguistic theories. Until two decades ago, the mechanisms underlying their production were largely unknown and undistinguished from those underlying the production of common names.

In this talk, proper name retrieval is compared to common name retrieval. The following questions are addressed:

  • Are PN (proper names) and common names (CN) processed separately?
  • Can PN processing be located in the brain?
  • Is PN processing more difficult than CN processing?
  • Does PN processing change with age differently with respect to common names?
  • Can neuropsychology of PN be used for clinical purposes?

The answer to these questions is sought via the methods of cognitive neuropsychology. Findings in selected clinical cases are shown to be consistent with both philosophical and linguistic theories on the difference between PN and CN. A theoretical information processing model of proper name retrieval, derived from neuropsychological findings, is proposed. The psychological reality of some linguistic theories is demonstrated.