LINGUIST List 14.65

Thu Jan 9 2003

Review: Applied Linguistics: Fava (2002)

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  • sepstein, Fava (2002), Clinical Linguistics

    Message 1: Fava (2002), Clinical Linguistics

    Date: Wed, 08 Jan 2003 17:13:10 +0000
    From: sepstein <>
    Subject: Fava (2002), Clinical Linguistics

    Fava, Elisabetta, ed. (2002) Clinical Linguistics: Theory and Applications in Speech Pathology and Therapy. Benjamins, xiv+353pp, hardback ISBN 1-58811-223-3, $86.00, Current Issues in Linguistic Theory 227.

    Book Announcement on Linguist:

    Shari A. Epstein, University of Arizona

    In her book, Clinical Linguistics: Theory and Applications in Speech Pathology and Therapy, Elisabetta Fava brings together 17 papers presenting research done on the language of clinical populations (ie. populations who have been diagnosed with a language disorder). The underlying theme throughout all of the papers is that the linguist is a scientist and therefore should constantly reevaluate linguistic theories in light of new data. In this way, clinical data can illuminate not only the underlying functions of disordered language, but also affect how we understand those of normal language. One of the greatest strengths of this collection is that it draws from many languages. This allows a particular disorder to be examined in different linguistic contexts and for theories to be tested on languages other than those with which they were developed. For example, Specific Language Impairment (SLI) is studied by different researchers in children speaking Dutch, Greek, Zulu, and Japanese. Theories can be tested by using languages especially suited for a particular question and conclusions can therefore be drawn across languages. Of course, there is an inherent danger in doing so. Namely, it relies upon the assumption that a given disorder presents in the same way, and is indeed the same disorder, regardless of the language spoken (for further discussion of this, see the chapter by Tanaka Welty, Watanabe, & Menn). However, the fact that a disorder can be studied in very different linguistic contexts in and of itself supports the idea that the disorder is independent of a specific language. In addition, disorders linked to biological causes, for example brain lesions in the case of aphasia, should share certain characteristics across languages. Unfortunately, Fava does not take complete advantage of the organization of her collection. While the chapters are grouped by topic allowing the reader to better integrate the points made; Fava herself does not discuss them as a group in a meaningful way. Even in her introduction, each paper is discussed individually with only a single paragraph linking their general ideas. Conclusions from one paper are not synthesized with those from another. The grouping allows the reader to draw her/his own impressions but more in-depth discussions of each section as a section would have also been quite useful.

    The first section, Phonology in Clinical Applications, contains two papers. Both begin with a phonological theory and then use clinical data to support it by showing that the theory is able to explain the data. The first paper is Yishai Tobin's 'Phonology as human behavior: Theoretical implications and cognitive and clinical applications'. Unlike most of the papers in the collection, this paper did not use a disordered population but rather a normally developing one that has not fully mastered spoken language. In it, Tobin discussed the theory of Phonology as Human Behavior (PHB) and used it to explain clinical patterns found in children who make phonological errors. PHB states that there is conflict between the desire for maximum communication and minimum effort. Therefore, Tobin argued, the phonological errors can be explained reducing effort at the expense of communication. It is only when there is a break down in communication that a child would need to correct her/his errors. Tobin's paper is followed by one by Dirk-Bart den Ouden entitled 'Segmental vs syllable markedness: Deletion errors in the paraphasias of fluent and non-fluent aphasic'. Different patterns of errors were found for fluent and non-fluent aphasics indicating a different in the adherence to markedness which was explained using Optimality Theory (OT). While a statistically significance difference was found between the two types of aphasia, there was still variation within each type. This, while not stated in the paper, may have been due to subjects' having different degrees of aphasia.

    Three papers make up the second section, Words in Deafness and Stuttering.It is not clear why these two populations were put together except that both are presented as performance, but not language disorders. In the paper regarding deafness, Roberto Ajello, Giovanna Marotta, Laura Mazzoni, and Florida Nicolai looked at the morphological errors made by Italian adults with profound deafness in their paper, 'Morphosyntactic fragility in the spoken and written Italian of the deaf'. Both spoken and written samples were collected and analyzed. It was found that morphological skills were significantly below lexical skills indicating that grammatical morphemes posed a particular problem for this population.

    The EXPLAN theory was applied to both the diagnosis of stuttering (Peter Howell and James Au-Yeung's 'The EXPLAN theory of fluency control applied to the diagnosis of stuttering') and the treatment of stuttering (Peter Howell's 'The EXPLAN theory of fluency control applied to the treatment of stuttering').According to this theory, occasionally the planning for a word will not have been completed by the time the word should be spoken. Compensatory techniques include pausing and repeated the previous word. In those who stutter, often the individual will attempt to say the word with an incomplete plan risking a fluency failure. Therefore, therapy exercises that teach the individual to slow down her/his rate of speech are often successful because they allow a greater planning time for each word. This paper offered a good example of how linguistic theory can be directly applied clinically in addition to clinical data being applied to the theory.

    The third section, Morphology and Syntax in Child Language Disorders, is much more cohesive than the second. The four papers in it all address specific language impairment (SLI) in different linguistic populations. Because different languages have different morphological and syntactic rules, cases of SLI should present differently depending on the language spoken yet similarly enough to be treated as cases of the same disorder. In addition, certain languages lend themselves to the testing of general hypotheses about SLI because they either have or lack specific types of rules. Roelien Bastaiaanse, Gerard Bol, Sofie van Mol, and Shalom Zuckerman's paper entitled 'Verb movement and finiteness in language impairment and language development' compared the production of finite verbs in Dutch by normally developing children, children with SLI, and adults with agrammatic aphasia. They found that it was not the actual production of the finite verbs that was difficult for these populations but the verb movement suggesting syntactic rather than morphological impairment. However, the different populations did not compensate in the same way. The SLI group compensated in a way that was similar to a hybrid of the other two in that their compensations contained features of compensations made by normally developing children and by agrammatic adults. Further support for a syntactic impairment in SLI is found in 'A-bar movement constructions in Greek children with SLI: Evidence for deficits in the syntactic component of language' by Stavroula Stavrakaki. Again, it was the movement of verbs that emerged as a key impairment. Susan Suzman's 'Morphological accessibility in Zulu' took a different approach by focusing on morphology rather than syntax. Zulu, being a highly inflected language, offers several opportunities in which to study impaired morphology. Because of this difference, Suzman argued that children, even those with SLI, who speak Zulu did not use uninflected verbs and did not appear to have difficulty with agreements. This was in marked contrast to English-speaking children with SLI and reinforced the idea that morphology itself is not necessarily affected by SLI. Japanese, like Zulu, allows SLI to be further teased apart. In fact, Japanese is so different from most other languages in which SLI has been studied that Yumiko Tanaka Welty, Jun Watanabe, and Lise Menn ('Language production in Japanese preschoolers with specific language impairment: Testing theories') first established whether SLI can even exist in a Japanese-speaking population. Indeed, their findings did not support any of the hypotheses of SLI which they set out to test leading them to form a cognitive overload account of SLI.

    Issues on Grammar and Cognition are explored in the three papers in the fourth section. The relationship between language and cognition is one that must be delineated both in clinical and research paradigms. Leah R. Paltiel-Gedalyovich, in 'Testing linguistic concepts: Are we testing semantics, syntax or pragmatics?', raised the question of what exactly standardized language tests test. Since all tests of language must involve cognition to some extent, there is a risk that what is called a language impairment by the test may actually be a cognitive impairment. Specifically, a child with an impairment in pragmatics might be labeled as having a language impairment (eg. SLI) because she/he missed a significant percentage of the test items. Modularity is an important word when discussing the relationship between language and cognition. Simply put: Is language a separate function or does it make use of processes that overlap with non-linguistic functions? Dusana Rybarova explored this by focusing on SLI ('Specific language impairment and modularity: Linguistic and non-linguistic explanations'). She argued that by using a model of 'weak modularity', SLI can be described in a way that addresses both linguistic and non-linguistic contributions to language. SLI was compared to Williams syndrome as a way to separate language and cognition in Vesna Stojanovik, Mick Perkins and Sara Howard's paper, 'The language/cognition interface: Lessons from SLI and Williams syndrome'. In SLI, language performance is significantly below that of cognition whereas in Williams syndrome, the reverse is true. Stojanovik, Perkins, and Howard's findings argued against a clear split between language and cognition (what Rybarova described as 'strong modularity'). Instead, correct language use, supporting the findings of Paltiel-Gedalyovich, was reliant upon both linguistic and cognitive functioning.

    The fifth and final section (Grammatical Structure in Aphasia), containing five papers, is the largest. In the first paper, 'Grammar and fluent aphasia', Susan Edwards studied the grammatical errors made by four subjects with fluent aphasia (Wernicke's aphasia). Usually this type of lesion is associated with word-retrieval errors. However, Edwards was able to show that not all of the errors were the result of a lexical impairment. Rather, she argued that there was limited access to grammatical processes as well. Anna Gavarro looked at grammar by studying language samples by individuals with aphasia from a variety of languages in 'Failure to agree in agrammatism'. This paper used previously collected samples to test several linguistic theories and provided a model for doing so. In addition, it demonstrated the role theory has in the collection and organization of data. Not only is this paper interesting for what it had to say about agrammatism, it offered several insights to the relationship between language samples and theories. 'The Verb and Sentence Test: Assessing verb and sentence comprehension and production in aphasia' by Judith Rispens, Roelien Bastiaanse, and Susan Edwards is one of the most clinically applicable papers in the collection. It presented and evaluated specific tasks included in the Verb and Sentence Test (VAST) to assess aphasia. As in the previous paper, emphasis was placed on the role linguistic theory has on actual practice: The VAST included only tasks that are supported by theory. This is useful because, as demonstrated by the following paper, some errors may occur only as a result of another impairment and therefore should not be assessed separately. According to Esther Ruigendijk's 'Case assignment as an explanation for determiner omission in German agrammatic speech', it was an impairment in the production of finite verbs that led to other errors in determiner production. Even though all ten of the subjects omitted determiners in spontaneous speech, most were able to correctly produce them when given a verb. The final paper in the collection is 'The role of verbal morphology in aphasia during lexical access: Evidence from Greek' by Kyrana Tsapkini, Gonia Jarema, and Eva Kehayia. Unlike the previous papers which focused on grammar in aphasia, this paper examines lexical access. This is in marked contrast, for example, to 'Grammar and fluent aphasia' by Susan Edwards which tried to remove lexical access as a factor. Together, these papers complement each other.


    As demonstrated, even though each of the papers is interesting in and of itself, the real value of the collection is in the integration of the various ideas presented. It is in this way that the reader will be able to gain a richer understanding of the field as a whole. In addition, ideas from one section can be constructively applied to those from another. The overlap in ideas found in the SLI and aphasia sections is the most apparent, although certainly not the only, example of this. Even without this, however, Fava's Clinical Linguistics: Theory and Applications in Speech Pathology and Therapy is both useful and instructive.


    Shari Epstein is currently working towards a MS in speech-language pathology at the University of Arizona. She holds a BA from Washington University in St. Louis. Her interests include language disorders in children and the application of research from various fields including linguistics, psychology, and neurology to language disorders.