Deictic and propositional meaning – new perspectives on language in schizophrenia.

Zimmerer, V.C., Watson, S., Turkington, D., Ferrier, I.N., & Hinzen, W. (2017). Deictic and propositional meaning – new perspectives on language in schizophrenia. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 8, 1-5.

While schizophrenia is generally considered a thought disorder, its symptoms are to a large degree observable through language. We learn via language about a person's thought disorder and delusions, and most hallucinations in schizophrenia concern hearing voices. Negative symptoms (for example lethargy, aphathy) as well go with changes in communication.

One question that may turn out to be important for understanding schizophrenia, and possibly clinical practice, is whether people with schizophrenia only differ in what they say (for example, if they claim that the Queen is their aunt), but whether they also differ in how they say it.

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Grammatical impairment, historical accidents and silver bullets.

In 1973, the neurologist Eric Lenneberg made two statements about the nature of language: 1) The rule systems described by Noam Chomsky cannot possibly reflect neurological reality. At best, they serve as metaphors for what the biological language system may do. 2) What is called "Broca's aphasia", the language impairment which results from damage to the frontal lobe of the brain and is characterised by very impoverished and non-fluent speech output, is not a disorder of language per se, but of speaking. It seemed obvious that people with Broca's aphasia could understand language, so Lenneberg believed in the consensus at that time that people with Broca's aphasia found it so difficult to produce speech sounds that they would limit their expressions to the bare minimum.

Lenneberg died two years later, too early to see both statements refuted in the mainstream.

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Language and Mental Health

The project website is not ready at the time I publish this, so I would like to talk a bit about the big project for which Rosemary Varley and I at UCL are currently recruiting aphasic and non-aphasic participants in the London area.

Broadly, there are two questions that drive all research on language: first, how does this complex and powerful apparatus work, and second, how does it interact with, or form the basis of, human thought? These questions are inherently related. Whether we are investigating how children learn language or how language changes in dementia, whether we are looking at language in the brain or trying to get computers to make use of it, whether we are interested in how a language changes over time or search for properties of language that never change, all work makes assumptions about the relationship between our ability to use language and our ability to think.

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