Words index  Vivian Cook

At a loss for words

The loss of the ability to use words is called aphasia. Since the mid 19th century this has been linked to damage in the brain, chiefly in two areas on the left side of the brain named after their discoverers Paul Broca and Carl Wernicke.

The damage to these areas results in different types of word loss. Here is a patient with damage to Brocaís area answering a question, reported by Howard Gardner:

Doctor: Could you tell me, Mr Ford, what youíve been doing in the hospital?

Patient: Yes. Sure. Me go, er. uh, P.T. nine oícot, speech ... two times ... read ... wr ... ripe, er, rike, er, write ... practice ... getting better.

This seems a string of content words; in other words the nouns and verbs are mostly left but the organisation has gone along with the structure words like Ďofí, the form of the pronouns I.

Here is a patient with Wernickeís area damage answering a similar question:

Doctor: What brings you to the hospital?

Patient: Boy Iím sweating. Iím awful nervous, you know, once in a while I get caught up, I canít mention the tarripoi, a month ago, quite a little, Iíve done a lot well, I impose a lot, while, on the other hand, you know what I mean, I have to run around, look it over, trebbin and all that sort of stuff.

Here the patient speaks fluently but doesnít seem to connect with the question. They may also have severe problems with the names of everyday objects. Mr Grogan can manage book and ear but says chair for table, knee for elbow: he calls clip plick, and butter tubber. He seeks desperately for words; for ankle he said ankey, no mankle, no kankle; for fork he said tonsil, teller, tongue, fung.

Until recently it was believed that damage to the right side of the brain did not affect language. However the right brain handles emotions. In English right damage can affect your ability to handle emotional aspects of language such as  the interpretation of emotion, allegedly leading to a higher divorce rate in right damaged patients.

Source Howard Gardner