P A P E R S
   by author
  by issue

   M I S S I O N

   C O N T A C T
I S S U E    N O .    1 0    [ D E C E M B E R    1 9 9 9 ]

Barbara Rönfeldt

Paragrammatism Reconsidered

What is an aphasic symptom? Most contemporary aphasiologists define a symptom, i.e. an instance of deviant verbal behaviour, as the direct expression of a definite disturbance of function. Up to a point, this is not in dispute.

However, a small number of scientists doubt that this is the only possible definition. John Hughlings Jackson was the first to differentiate between negative symptoms - direct sequelae of an impairment of the substratum - and positive symptoms that are due to the effect of a separation between an undamaged area and a damaged one (1879:304ff). In the 1920s Kurt Goldstein added two further possible sources of symptoms: depending or secondary symptoms which are due to the effect of the pathologic process in a damaged area on other parts of the nervous system, and symptoms which represent protective mechanisms against the effect of the damage on the personality as a whole (1971:3).

In the 1980s Claus Heeschen and Herman Kolk developed their adaptation theory based on the work of these two researchers. They too distinguish between negative and positive symptoms, but in a slightly different way. Their definition of negative or impairment symptoms corresponds to that of Hughlings Jackson, whereas their positive symptoms resemble Goldstein's protective mechanisms. Heeschen/Kolk think that the organism as a whole tries to minimize the consequences of the damage to the brain by making use of functional reorganization. This means that an intact but less optimally suited module of the brain takes over the tasks of a damaged or destroyed component. Because the substitute is less than adequate, the adaptation results in a functionally usable but somewhat inaccurate or non-standard grammatical form. Deviant forms of this kind are called positive symptoms.

So, the fundamental point in defining a positive symptom is its function (Heeschen/Kolk 1988:51). To make their distinction clear, Heeschen/Kolk give the example of writing with the left hand because of a defect in the right hand. The handwriting looks awkward, but the words can be recognized (1988:42f). Heeschen/Kolk mention the use of elliptic structures by agrammatic patients as an example of adaptation to a syntactic deficit. They argue that the aphasics shift from complex to simple sentence structures because of slowed activation of the elements of the sentence representation. This complexity reduction is a preventive strategy (Kolk/Heeschen 1990:225).

This study aims at reconsidering the aphasic symptom of paragrammatism, typically found in Wernicke's aphasics, within the framework of the adaptation theory. I have replaced the traditional notion of an aphasic symptom with Heeschen/Kolk's notion because in my opinion the former is not compatible with recent developments in general linguistics, whereas the latter certainly is. I am convinced that aphasiology as applied linguistics should not act independently of developments in general linguistics, since aphasia is not a novel kind of behaviour, but - merely - the linguistic behaviour of normal people who have to communicate with a language that consists of - partly - non-normal impairments (Lesser/Milroy 1993:334f).

 To cite this publication:
Röhnfeldt, Barbara: Paragrammatism Reconsidered, InLiSt - Interaction and Linguistic Structures, No. 10, December, 1999, URL: <http://www.uni-potsdam.de/u/inlist/issues/10/index.htm>


InLiSt No.10
PDF (265 KB)

Get Acrobat Reader

[ H O M E P A G E | P A P E R S by author | P A P E R S by issue | C O N T A C T ]

© 1998-2009 University of Potsdam, Prof. Dr. Elizabeth Couper-Kuhlen, Professor of English Linguistics.
2010 University of Bayreuth, Prof. Dr. Karin Birkner, Professor of German Linguistics.