The influence of parents' aphasia on children's first language acquisition

Term Paper, 2017
13 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Aphasia concerning Jakobson
2.1. Similarity disorder
2.2. Contiguity disorder

3. Children’s first language acquisition

4. Influence of parent’s aphasia on children’s first language acquisition

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography

1. Introduction

Infants are born into a social world, a world of touch, sound, and affect, a world of communication. They develop and grow up as social beings, immersed in a network of relationships from the start. It is in this social setting that they are first exposed to language, to language in use. […] language is a central factor in the social life of infants. The users of language they are exposed to provide the context in which children themselves become proficient at communicating wants and desires, affect and interest, requests and instructions, questions and observations, and commentary on all the other contents of everyday life (Clark 2003: 25).

But what happens if parents suffer from aphasia? Will the children’s first language acquisition be influenced?

The following term paper shall probe into these questions. Thus, in the first part I will focus on aphasia concerning Jakobson, differentiating between similarity disorder and contiguity disorder. After that, I want to give a short overview of children’s first language acquisition, and in the last part I will analyze the influence of parents’ aphasia on children’s first language acquisition.

2. Aphasia concerning Jakobson

People suffering from the language disorder aphasia have difficulties in understanding and uttering language. They produce inappropriate or distorted words and cannot accept summons. Through this, communication with other human beings becomes problematic.

The appearances of aphasia are very different: often the disease is that distinctive that aphasics cannot produce speech voluntarily or, on the other hand, they need more time to find the words they are searching for (cf. Lamperstorfer 2004: 245-246). Jakobson claims that, as aphasia is an impairment of language, a competent linguistic examination of what in the patient’s language is impaired is needed for making an exact diagnosis (cf. Jakobson 1955: 234). Concerning Roch Lecours and Lhermitte, Jakobson is not only the one who has given neurolinguistic research an enormous impetus, but also suggests one of the first linguistic theories of aphasia (Friedrich 2006: 422). Due to that, this chapter mainly focuses on Jakobson’s linguistic theory based on clinical case studies conducted by Goldstein. For a better and clearer understanding I decided to differentiate two types of aphasia concerning Jakobson, namely similarity disorder and contiguity disorder, which both include different aspects or rather subtypes.

2.1. Similarity disorder

According to Jakobson’s linguistic analysis on language pathologies based on the twofold character of language, each verbal behavior contains two different operations, namely the selection and combination of linguistic units. Concerning Jakobson, they are fundamental and underlie all verbal behavior (cf. Friedrich 2006: 423). In his essay Two Aspects of Language and Two Types of Aphasic Disturbances (1956), Jakobson says that “when the selective capacity is strongly impaired and the gift for combination at least partly preserved, then contiguity determines the patient’s whole behavior […]” (Jakobson 1956: 105-106); in this case the aphasic suffers from a similarity disorder.

In this type of language disorder, context is an essential and determining element. The aphasic has no problems in carrying on a conversation, but has difficulties in starting one. His utterances need to depend on the context to cope with his verbal task successfully: “he feels unable to utter a sentence which responds neither to the cue of his interlocutor nor to the actual situation” (ibid.: 101), but the chances of its successful performance by this class of patients is higher when the utterance is deeply embedded in the verbal or nonverbalized context (cf. ibid.). As a consequence, the main subordinating agent of the sentence, which is the subject, inclines to be omitted (cf. ibid.). This explains the difficulty for aphasics of starting a sentence, as the subject often builds the starting point. Regarding syntactically subordinated words – pronouns, pronominal verbs and verbs to construct the context like connectives and auxiliaries – Jakobson claims that they have an inherent reference to the context and are prone to survive (cf. ibid.). Freud and Goldstein noticed that key words or specific nouns are replaced by abstract anaphoric substitutes or general nouns, e.g. ‘thing’ as a substitution for all inanimate nouns, which is an example of amnestic aphasia – also belonging to similarity disorder (cf. ibid.). Many tests have shown that a word occurring in two different contexts are treated as homonyms, which means that “objects are defined by reference to their specific contextual variants rather than by a comprehensive generic term (one patient would never say knife, only pencil-sharpener, apple-parer, bread knife, knife-and-fork)” (Lodge 1977: 78, original italics). Aphasics show the same difficulty when they are required to denote objects pointed to or handled. The synonymic sign – the word – becomes redundant and superfluous for the patient. Jakobson refers to Peirce at this point, as Peirce would say that the aphasics fail to shift from an index or icon to a corresponding verbal symbol (cf. Jakobson 1956: 102-103). Although even a simple repetition of a word seems to be impossible for a patient, a spontaneous utterance of it seems to be no problem: a conscious selection from an abstract paradigm presents difficulties for the aphasic, but context enables him to use the expression without any problems (cf. ibid.: 103; Lodge 1977: 78).

Jakobson also correlates aphasia with the two varieties of figural speech. He differentiates between metaphor, based on similarity of two objects or concepts and presupposing an analogical substitution, and metonymy, which is a semantic relationship of causal, spatial or temporal nature. As this part of aphasia is a substitution disorder, metonymy is well preserved here (cf. Friedrich 2006: 425). Although aphasics whose selective capacities are affected, employ metonymy, they make – according to Lodge – metonymic mistakes “by transferring figures of combination and deletion to the axis of selection and substitution” (Lodge 1977: 78). Jakobson explains that e.g. fork functions as a substitution for knife, table for lamp, smoke for pipe or eat for toaster (cf. Jakobson 1956: 105). In his paper Aphasia as a linguistic topic (1955) he also reports on a patient who does not react with a metaphor like ginger pop to a stimulus word like champagne, but makes metonymical shifts from the cause to the “effect (tipsiness or hangover), from the thing contained to the container (bottle), from the goal to an auxiliary tool (corkscrew), and from the whole to a part (foam)” (Jakobson 1955: 236, original italics). Thus, the aphasic combines the stimulus word with a specific context that might consist of own experiences or ‘cultural norms’. At this point, Jakobson also focuses on how an aphasic handles metalanguage and claims that the unavailable result of similarity disorder is the loss of metalingual operations (cf. Jakobson 1963: 295). Following him, aphasics are incapable of talking about language itself, thus incapable to recognize that one verbal code acts both as topic of and as vehicle for the discourse (cf. Jakobson 1955: 235). He emphasizes that metalanguage is not only necessary for the acquisition of language, but also for its normal functioning (cf. Jakobson 1956: 104) and brings it in connection with the sensory type of aphasia – alias Wernicke’s aphasia – which is the most conspicuous similarity disorder and the basic form of decoding impairments (cf. Jakobson 1963: 293). Jakobson mentions an example of sensory aphasia, where a French truck driver had an accident. Although his high intelligence was preserved and he could understand conversations, he was not able to begin a sentence, as the initial word was a handicap for him, as well as could not name an object showed to him (Jakobson 1966: 329). As this examples shows, sensory aphasia entails many aspects already mentioned before. Nonetheless some more aspects of Wernicke’s aphasia shall be presented.

This type of aphasia has a ‘fluent’ speech characteristic. But as speech is distorted, it is difficult to impossible to get the meaning of utterances. On the one hand, the aphasic utters phonematic neologisms and paraphasias, on the other hand, the semantic component is restricted: when the aphasic uses apple instead of pear, a case of semantic paraphasia is present; when the patient creates a new word, e.g. coldkitchen instead of fridge, it is a semantic neologism (cf. Lamperstorfer 2004: 249-250). Regarding the syntactic level, there might appear entanglements or doubling of clause elements, which is called paragrammatism. Aphasics cannot remove themselves from something they have said or written before, which is called perseveration (cf. ibid.: 250). Another characteristic aspect of Wernicke’s aphasia are disruptions of speech comprehension, which extend over content words (cf. ibid.). According to Crystal, he says that “such speech is often said to be semantically ‘empty’, ‘low in information’, containing ‘unnecessary words’, ‘circumlocutions’ and various kinds of ‘jargon’.” (Crystal 1988: 43)

In summary, one can say that aphasics having a similarity disorder have not only problems in word findings, but also in uttering sentences or words ripped out of context. Simple repetitions of words seem impossible. As metaphors are based on similarity, they cannot be uttered in this case of aphasia. Metonymies are used as a compensation for this loss. Also metalanguage is affected in a similarity disorder.

2.2. Contiguity disorder

The other main type Jakobson mentions is contiguity disorder. As Geschwind argues in a discussion with Jakobson, Wernicke was the one who established the dichotomy between the two types of aphasia (cf. Jakobson 1966: 320). In keeping with Jakobson, speech implies not only the selection of linguistic entities, i.e. e.g. words, but also their combination into sentences, and sentences into utterances (cf. Jakobson 1956: 97). Thus, a message is a combination of constituent parts like sentences, words, or phonemes. These constituents of a context “are in a state of contiguity” (ibid.: 99, original italics), which is necessary to assure the transmission of a message between participants of a speech event (cf. ibid.: 100).

Contiguity disorder is a type of aphasia where the ability to propositionize, or rather, to combine simpler linguistic entities into complex units, is impaired. Whereas in similarity disorder the aphasic has deficits in word selection, in contiguity disorder there is no wordlessness, as the word is the entity which is preserved (cf. ibid.: p. 106). What is lost in contiguity disorder are syntactical rules organizing words into higher units, consequently functional words like conjunctions, prepositions, pronouns and articles disappear first – those which are the most resistant in similarity disorder (cf. ibid.). These deficiencies lead to agrammatism and telegraphic style.

Agrammatism causes the decline of a sentence: the word order becomes chaotic and what is left is only a ‘word heap’ without any grammatical link (cf. ibid.; Friedrich 2006: 425). The loss of inflection is a typical feature of agrammatism: unmarked categories appear instead of finite verbal forms and only nominatives instead of all the other cases (cf. Jakobson 1956: 107). The decay of inflectional variation is accompanied by the indissolubility of words, why the aphasic cannot recognize the individual components of a compound or cannot resolve a word into its grammatical components (cf. Jakobson 1955: 237). Following Eisenson, in intense forms of aphasia, agrammatism may be expressed as telegrammatism (Crystal 1988: 36), which leads to the telegraphic style. Telegraphic style appears when the aphasic loses the ability to propositionize and drops all function words, as they largely depend grammatically on the context, and due to that the context disintegrates (cf. Jakobson 1955: 236; Jakobson 1956: 106). Also other dependent words like adverbs, adjectives and finite verbs are lost. Therefore, aphasics tend to utter only one-word sentences and one-sentence utterances, what makes communication difficult (cf. Jakobson 1956: 107; Jakobson 1966: 310).

Agrammatism is a pivotal sign of Broca’s aphasia – also called motor aphasia – and is the basic form of encoding impairments (cf. Jakobson 1963: 293). Concerning Broca’s aphasia, spontaneous speech is very slow, hesitant and needs great effort. Because function words and inflection present serious difficulties, only nouns, verbs and adjectives are produced (cf. Lamperstorfer 2004: 249). As Lamperstorfer claims, there are not only syntactic restrictions, but also phonematic problems: “Es kommt zu phonematischen Neologismen, oder das Zielwort ist noch erkennbar, aber lautlich entstellt, z.B. „Kopper“ statt „Koffer“, auch phonematische Paraphasie genannt“ (ibid., original italics). Patients suffering from this type of aphasia often cannot differentiate between “the ball lies on the chair” and “the ball lies behind the chair” (cf. ibid.).

Broca’s aphasia is also known as efferent aphasia. As already mentioned, combination is disturbed in efferent aphasia and the construction of a sentence presents many difficulties; but on the phonemic level, there are difficulties not only in using phoneme clusters, but also in constructing syllables and in making the transition from phoneme to phoneme or from one syllable to another (cf. Jakobson 1963: 293). On the semantic level of efferent aphasia, lexical root-morphemes are preserved, whereas affixes and grammatical words are not. Thus, patents having a contiguity disorder differentiate roots rather than suffixes (cf. ibid.: 295). Another area which is inevitably impaired in efferent disorder is internal speech. This impairment expresses itself in the break-down of contextual speech, as internal speech is the context of an utterance (cf. ibid.).

In his paper Toward a linguistic classification of aphasic impairments (1963), Jakobson mentions two varieties of combination in language, namely temporal sequence, which is impaired in the efferent type of encoding disorder, and concurrence, which is disrupted by afferent aphasia (cf. Jakobson 1963: 299). In afferent aphasia, it seems like only the least dependent features, which underlie the phonemic pattern of language, are preserved. There is a wide range of fluctuations in the realization of phonemes (cf. ibid.: 299-300).

Both efferent and afferent aphasia affect the encoding process, and since selection is followed by combination for the encoder and in aphasia the consequent is impaired while the antecedent is preserved, combination is deficient in these encoding types of aphasia (cf. ibid.: 304).

One last aspect that shall be mentioned regarding contiguity disorder is that aphasics suffer


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The influence of parents' aphasia on children's first language acquisition
RWTH Aachen University  (Department for Linguistics and Cognitive Semiotics)
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Mara Galinski (Author), 2017, The influence of parents' aphasia on children's first language acquisition, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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