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Article

Functional and usage-based approaches to aphasia: the grammatical-lexical distinction and the role of frequency

Aphasiology. 2019. P. 1-16.
Martínez-Ferreiro S., Bastiaanse R., Boye K.

Background: Functional and usage-based theories of language are gaining increasing influence in linguistics. These theories understand language structure as underpinned by domain-general neurocognitive capacities and as shaped by usage patterns and the function of language as a means for communication. Accordingly, they entail an approach to aphasia which differs markedly from established ones based on formal theories.

Aims: Based on an outline of central claims in functional and usage-based theories, we aim to show how such theories can cast new light on aphasia.

Methods & Procedures: We focus on two strands of functional and usage-based aphasiological research: 1) research on frequency effects in aphasic speech, 2) and research on the grammatical-lexical distinction and its significance for the description of aphasic speech and the understanding of the causes of aphasia. We review available studies that fall within the two aforementioned strands of research, assessing their strengths and limitations.

Outcomes & Results: Usage-based methodologies are currently being developed that allow for fast quantification of the degree of formulaicity of a language sample and may thus be helpful in ascertaining the role of fossilized multiword expressions in aphasia. In line with central claims in usage-based linguistics, the first results of studies employing these methodologies have shown that frequency and collocation strength facilitate the retrieval of multiword expressions in a way that resembles the way in which lexical frequency facilitate retrieval of isolated words.

A recent functional and usage-based theory understands the grammatical-lexicon distinction as a means for prioritizing parts of complex linguistic messages. Defining grammatical items as items that are discursively secondary (background) and dependent on host items, this theory entails an account of grammatical deficits which bridges the gap between existing structure-oriented and processing-oriented accounts. The theory entails word-class general criteria that allow fine-grained classification of linguistic items as grammatical or lexical. Cross-linguistic studies of verb, pronoun and preposition production show that this classification is significant for the description of aphasic language.

Conclusions: Functional and usage-based studies of aphasia are still sparse, but show promising results. This approach seems especially qualified for understanding 1) the neurocognitive causes of various types of aphasia, 2) the variability across languages, communicative settings (including tasks and modalities), groups of individuals and individuals, which is characteristic of aphasic speech, and 3) the link between aphasia symptoms and the basic need and challenge for people with aphasia: to remain a social being by communicating with other social beings.