Conference Paper

The structure and function of interjections in English aphasic conversation: Two case studies

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Aphasia is an acquired language disorder caused by focal brain injury. It predicts specific patterns of language comprehension and production that affect lexical retrieval and grammar. The linguistic impairment of the person with aphasia (PWA) decreases the fluency of speech and makes the conveyance of information in talk more effortful. Aphasia not only affects the communicative ability of the PWA, but furthermore constitutes an issue of identity (Wilkinson et al. 2007). Interjections such as ‘yeah’, ‘oh’ and ‘well’ are an important resource to facilitate the comprehension and production of talk. They enable the participants to interpret and anticipate sequences of conversation more easily and correctly (Daly & Knapp 2002), which makes conversation more efficient and enhances intersubjectivity. Research has uncovered two important features of interjections, which are essential to the organization of turn-taking in typical conversation, namely a ‘syntactic’ and ‘pragmatic projectability’ (Beeke 2003). Structurally, interjections facilitate the organization of conversations and pragmatically, they aid in the establishment of common ground while being produced with ease and without syntactic constraints. Through their lexical brevity and simplicity they are of great interest in aphasia, especially since they are generally spared (Goodwin 1995). Two conversations between a PWA and his spouse were analysed to investigate the function of interjections. In contrast to prior research that related the use of interjections to passive communicators (Perkins 1995), results suggested that interjections can display passive speakers as active participants in conversation. Interjections serve to express degrees of interest and engagement in a conversation. They alone may be perceived as a sufficient contribution to the conversation to display the PWA as competent conversation partner. This ensures a smooth conversation independent of the actual contribution by the PWA. Despite the multiple meanings of interjections, they nevertheless enabled the PWA to get his message across. In sum, interjections are suggested to serve as a remedy to threats to saving face.

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During the nineteenth century, linguistics and aphasiology both underwent rapid, but allegedly unrelated developments. In this article, I present a somewhat more differentiated picture of their relationship. In linguistics, interest in aphasiology was almost, but not altogether absent. And despite a general lack of linguistic interest in medical circles, aphasiologists occasionally appealed to linguistic ideas. This appeal was scarce and variable, however. The situation of predominant disconnectedness raises some questions: why was there only a minimal contact between disciplines in a situation of spectacular scientific developments at their intersection? And how can exceptions to this general pattern be explained?
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