When Speaking Gets Difficult: Aphasia

Damage to some specific brain areas can lead to speech problems, or aphasia. This article discusses two forms: Broca's aphasia and Wernicke's aphasia.

Aphasia

An injury to the left side of the brain in many cases leads to problems with speech, or aphasia. These difficulties are usually the most severe right after the injury and decrease in severity in the following months (this happens in most cases, but not always). This apparent recovery is known as spontaneous recovery. These language problems are obviously most noticeable in speech. Here, the two major speech conditions are discussed:

  • Broca’s aphasia, and
  • Wernicke’s aphasia.

Broca’s Aphasia

In Broca’s aphasia, the person affected mainly has problems speaking. Words are formed with a lot of difficulty, especially verbs, and the style of the sentences is telegraphic because words denoting a function (such as prepositions and articles) are usually missing and only words denoting content (such as nouns and, if possible, verbs) are expressed. The ability to understand language, however, is relatively intact.

This type of aphasia is the result of damage in the left frontal lobe, more specifically in Broca’s area, lying just in front of the motor cortex. Both the aphasia and brain area are named after the French researcher Paul Broca, who discovered both in the 19th century.

Wernicke’s Aphasia

In Wernicke’s aphasia little seems to be wrong with the patient’s capacity to speak. He or she is able to speak fluently, the grammar rules are abided and no signs of trouble are expressed (in contrast with patients suffering from Broca’s aphasia, who are all too aware of their issues).

Only when one starts to listen to what is said, it becomes apparent that there is a problem. The content of what Wernicke’s aphasia patients are saying makes no sense. Parts of sentences are ‘pasted’ together without any coherence, in some cases inexistent words are used and even simple tasks, such as identifying objects can go wrong (for example, calling an apple a banana). Furthermore, the patient has trouble understanding what is being said by others.

Wernicke’s aphasia is the result of damage in the upper side of the left temporal lobe (where Wernicke's area can be found), close to where it is joined by the parietal lobe.

References

  • Jonkers, R. & De Bruin, A. (2008). Tense processing in Broca’s and Wernicke’s Aphasia. Aphasiology. 23(10), pp. 1252 – 1265.
  • Links, P.; Hurkmans, J. & Bastiaanse, R. (2010). Training verb and sentence structure in agrammatic Broca’s Aphasia. Aphasiology. iFirst, pp. 1 – 23.
  • Van Lancker Sidtis, D.; Kempler, D.; Jackson, C. & Metter, J. (2010). Prosodic changes in aphasic speech: timing. Clinical Linguistics & Phonetics. 24(2), pp. 155 – 167.

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Ron Siojo
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Posted on Mar 30, 2011
Abdel-moniem El-Shorbagy
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