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Louise Cummings

Clinical linguistics is the branch of linguistics that applies linguistic concepts and theories to the study of language disorders. As the name suggests, clinical linguistics is a dual-facing discipline. Although the conceptual roots of this field are in linguistics, its domain of application is the vast array of clinical disorders that may compromise the use and understanding of language. Both dimensions of clinical linguistics can be addressed through an examination of specific linguistic deficits in individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders, craniofacial anomalies, adult-onset neurological impairments, psychiatric disorders, and neurodegenerative disorders. Clinical linguists are interested in the full range of linguistic deficits in these conditions, including phonetic deficits of children with cleft lip and palate, morphosyntactic errors in children with specific language impairment, and pragmatic language impairments in adults with schizophrenia. Like many applied disciplines in linguistics, clinical linguistics sits at the intersection of a number of areas. The relationship of clinical linguistics to the study of communication disorders and to speech-language pathology (speech and language therapy in the United Kingdom) are two particularly important points of intersection. Speech-language pathology is the area of clinical practice that assesses and treats children and adults with communication disorders. All language disorders restrict an individual’s ability to communicate freely with others in a range of contexts and settings. So language disorders are first and foremost communication disorders. To understand language disorders, it is useful to think of them in terms of points of breakdown on a communication cycle that tracks the progress of a linguistic utterance from its conception in the mind of a speaker to its comprehension by a hearer. This cycle permits the introduction of a number of important distinctions in language pathology, such as the distinction between a receptive and an expressive language disorder, and between a developmental and an acquired language disorder. The cycle is also a useful model with which to conceptualize a range of communication disorders other than language disorders. These other disorders, which include hearing, voice, and fluency disorders, are also relevant to clinical linguistics. Clinical linguistics draws on the conceptual resources of the full range of linguistic disciplines to describe and explain language disorders. These disciplines include phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics, and discourse. Each of these linguistic disciplines contributes concepts and theories that can shed light on the nature of language disorder. A wide range of tools and approaches are used by clinical linguists and speech-language pathologists to assess, diagnose, and treat language disorders. They include the use of standardized and norm-referenced tests, communication checklists and profiles (some administered by clinicians, others by parents, teachers, and caregivers), and qualitative methods such as conversation analysis and discourse analysis. Finally, clinical linguists can contribute to debates about the nosology of language disorders. In order to do so, however, they must have an understanding of the place of language disorders in internationally recognized classification systems such as the 2013 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) of the American Psychiatric Association.


Susan Edwards and Christos Salis

Aphasia is an acquired language disorder subsequent to brain damage in the left hemisphere. It is characterized by diminished abilities to produce and understand both spoken and written language compared with the speaker’s presumed ability pre-cerebral damage. The type and severity of the aphasia depends not only on the location and extent of the cerebral damage but also the effect the lesion has on connecting areas of the brain. Type and severity of aphasia is diagnosed in comparison with assumed normal adult language. Language changes associated with normal aging are not classed as aphasia. The diagnosis and assessment of aphasia in children, which is unusual, takes account of age norms. The most common cause of aphasia is a cerebral vascular accident (CVA) commonly referred to as a stroke, but brain damage following traumatic head injury such as road accidents or gunshot wounds can also cause aphasia. Aphasia following such traumatic events is non-progressive in contrast to aphasia arising from brain tumor, some types of infection, or language disturbances in progressive conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, where the language disturbance increases as the disease progresses. The diagnosis of primary progressive aphasia (as opposed to non-progressive aphasia, the main focus of this article) is based on the following inclusion and exclusion criteria by M. Marsel Mesulam, in 2001. Inclusion criteria are as follows: Difficulty with language that interferes with activities of daily living and aphasia is the most prominent symptom. Exclusion criteria are as follows: Other non-degenerative disease or medical disorder, psychiatric diagnosis, episodic memory, visual memory, and visuo-perceptual impairment, and, finally, initial behavioral disturbance. Aphasia involves one or more of the building blocks of language, phonemes, morphology, lexis, syntax, and semantics; and the deficits occur in various clusters or patterns across the spectrum. The degree of impairment varies across modalities, with written language often, but not always, more affected than spoken language. In some cases, understanding of language is relatively preserved, in others both production and understanding are affected. In addition to varied degrees of impairment in spoken and written language, any or more than one component of language can be affected. At the most severe end of the spectrum, a person with aphasia may be unable to communicate by either speech or writing and may be able to understand virtually nothing or only very limited social greetings. At the least severe end of the spectrum, the aphasic speaker may experience occasional word finding difficulties, often difficulties involving nouns; but unlike difficulties in recalling proper nouns in normal aging, word retrieval problems in mild aphasia includes other word classes. Descriptions of different clusters of language deficits have led to the notion of syndromes. Despite great variations in the condition, patterns of language deficits associated with different areas of brain damage have been influential in understanding language-brain relationships. Increasing sophistication in language assessment and neurological investigations are contributing to a greater, yet still incomplete understanding of language-brain relationships.