14. Acquired language disorders: some functional insights
Edith Cowan University
University of Newcastle
University of Macquarie
The University of Sydney, Australia
The study of language disorder has historically encompassed a number of different perspectives. A significant amount of research has been undertaken using individuals with acquired brain damage as windows to brain function, e.g. from the studies which implied localisation of particular language function in particular parts of the brain based on aphasic individuals’ performance on language tasks (e.g. Geschwind, 1965; Goodglass and Kaplan, 1983; Luria, 1966), to the sophisticated studies currently being undertaken, focusing more on the complex neurological processes which might be occurring during language processing (e.g. Cao et al., 1999; Naeser et al., 2004). Another perspective involves what the breakdown of language might tell us about normal language function and indeed about the organisation of language regardless of neurological correlates. And yet another perspective involves the question of intervention – in finding out more about language disorder, can we learn better ways of facilitating language recovery or language improvement in the client or devise better ways to work with the person with the language disorder as well as assist their communication partners to overcome the social limitations they might encounter as a result of the disorder? This chapter addresses the latter two perspectives, exploring a social semiotic approach to language disorder. It focuses on what happens when communication becomes difficult for adult speakers and their conversational partners due to one speaker having restricted access to linguistic resources as a result of acquired brain damage. Through the inspiration of Halliday and Hasan, the authors have explored this area for a number of years, with a clinical perspective the focus of our work. Coming to linguistics from speech pathology backgrounds, we are concerned with the nature of the language disorder, how it affects speakers in their everyday conversations and whether linguistic principles can assist in remediation of, or compensation for, the disorder. We have been particularly interested in the application of Systemic Functional Linguistic (SFL) theory to language disorder, as it offers a contextualised view of language rather than the decontextualised view offered by psycholinguistic models traditionally used in the field of speech pathology.