General to Specific Access to Word Meaning: A Claim Re-Examined

Brenda C. Rapp, Alfonso Caramazza

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We examine the claim proposed by Warrington (1975), Warrington and McCarthy (1983), and Warrington and Shallice (1979) that access to word meaning is initiated at the superordinate node in a hierarchical semantic network with progressive activation downward resulting in an increasingly specific semantic representation. This view of general to specific access to word meaning is based on data from certain neurologically impaired patients who demonstrate the ability to make accurate judgements of the superordinate class of items they are otherwise unable to identify. We describe a patient whose performance conforms to this pattern. With this patient we are able to test the prediction that, if the patient has access primarily to the superordinate class membership of items, he should have more difficulty discriminating between items that share a superordinate than between items that do not. The results obtained do not support a claim of general to specific access to word meaning. Alternative explanations of the apparent ability of these patients to categorise words they cannot identify are described.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)251-272
Number of pages22
JournalCognitive neuropsychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 1989

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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