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How Aphasia Causes Difficulty Speaking

By
Syelle Graves, read by Mignon Fogarty,
Episode #510

You may also notice that children in their earliest stages of language development produce abbreviated sentences that are missing those functional pieces! Linguists compare this developmental stage to the genre of language that people used to write telegrams years ago, which had low character limits. Missing articles and prepositions saved space, but allowed the message to come through, not unlike Broca’s aphasia.

Modularity

A final language concept that we can take away from all of this information about language impairment is the overwhelming evidence that the brain is modular, which means it is compartmentalized into specialized sections. Aphasia symptoms have no relationship to any loss in motor skills, intellectual abilities, hearing, or physical impairment of language articulators like the tongue or vocal cords. Plus, aphasia in deaf people is extremely similar, because signed languages are as equally complex and sophisticated as spoken languages. So, this indicates that language is what gets lateralized and localized, not speech, and language resides in the mind. (2)

Exceptions

We can end with the caveat that aphasia is very complex, and you may have known people who had aphasia but illustrated different symptoms than we had room for today. For instance, some non-fluent aphasics develop “dysprosody,” which means they lose some intonation, and speak more monotone than is normal. Some aphasics simultaneously develop actual speech production impairment, which leads them to struggle with pronunciation, such as reducing consonant clusters like “spoon” to “poon.” Errors like that are called “phonemic paraphasias.” (4). 

Some patients are able to recover from aphasia with speech therapy, and some are not. Some research on the general difficulty with naming and defining objects or concepts, called “anomia,” observes that it occurs in both types of aphasia described in this article, while some research classifies it as a separate type, called “anomic aphasia.” 

Another twist is that many patients start off with non-fluent aphasia, but progress to a more fluent form with recovery time. (5) There are even other, lesser-known areas of the brain, such as Brodmann’s, that can affect language when damaged. (1) Some patients may retain the ability to understand both spoken and written language, but lose the ability to speak or write themselves. 

You may have known people with age-related dementia who forget words and names, but this condition is more of a cognitive than linguistic deficit, and affects different parts of the brain from aphasia, despite sharing many symptomatic similarities. 

So, there are many variables, and it all depends on the patient, on what parts of the brain are subjected to the damage, and on which nonlinguistic brain components are damaged along with the linguistic ones. (4)

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

This article was written by Syelle Graves, who has two master's degrees in linguistics. You can read more about her at syellegraves.com

Sources

Bonilha, L., et al. 2015. Success of anomia treatment in aphasia is associated with preserved architecture of global and left temporal lobe structural networks. Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair: 1–14.

Fromkin, V., Rodman, R., & Hyams, N. 2011. An Introduction to Language. 9th Ed. Wadsworth, Cengage.

Heny, J. “Brain and Language.” 1997. In: Language: Introductory Readings. Bedford/St. Martins. 2008.

O’Grady, W. et al. 2005. Contemporary Linguistics. 5th ed. Bedford/St. Martin’s.

Pedersen, P., Vinter, K., & Olsen, T. 2004. Aphasia after stroke: Type, severity, and prognosis. Cerebrovascular Diseases, 17: 35–43.

Rosenberg, K., & Trevathan, W. 2002. Birth, obstetrics, and human evolution. BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 109: 1199–1206.

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