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Clin Linguist Phon. 2009 Feb;23(2):133-55. doi: 10.1080/02699200802602985.

Prosody as a compensatory strategy in the conversations of people with agrammatism.

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Research Department of Language and Communication, Division of Psychology and Language Sciences, University College London, UK.


Historically, agrammatism, a symptom of Broca's aphasia, has been associated with dysprosody, on account of speakers' slow, halting, and effortful speech. Almost all investigations of this phenomenon use experimental methods (reading, repetition). Thus, little is known about how prosody is used by speakers with agrammatism and understood by their interlocutors in everyday conversations. This paper takes an interactional approach to prosody, using Conversation Analysis to explore everyday conversations between three speakers with agrammatism and their family members/friends, recorded in the home. A distinct prosodic pattern is revealed in their talk, whereby non-final words in an agrammatic utterance are produced with mid-level or minor rising pitch, and final words with a prominent pitch excursion. The analysis shows that conversation partners orient to terminal pitch movement as a signal of turn completion. Conversely, they do not take the floor when pitch signals continuation, despite significant pausing and severe grammatical disruption. Thus, prosody appears to function to regulate turn taking in the same way as it does in typical (non-language disordered) conversation. For these three speakers, intact prosodic skills appear to compensate for impaired grammatical ability, by packaging a series of haltingly produced words into an utterance, the meaning of which is responded to by the conversation partner as the sum of its agrammatic parts.

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