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I’m reading The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker, and yesterday it was a chapter on how language is processed in the brain. 

You probably know that there are two main areas in the left hemisphere involved in this, Broca’s (speech production) and Wernicke’s (speech comprehension). To clarify how they work, the author mentions aphasia (language impairment). So I decided to go and find videos to actually hear what it sounds like. 

I want to share them as a reminder of what a wonder language is, and how easy it is to take this ability for granted. 

Aphasia is usually a result of a stroke, brain injury or infection. Quick search shows there may be six types (I’m attaching links to short YouTube videos for three of them):

– Global aphasia is the most severe one when both language production and language comprehension are disrupted. These people say or understand very little. 

– Broca’s aphasia (also non-fluent or expressive) is when a person understands languages well but has a great difficulty in expressing what they want to say, especially in terms of syntax. So their speech is slow and “broken”. 

– Mixed non-fluent aphasia is similar to the previous one but these people have more difficulty understanding. 

– Wernicke’s aphasia (also fluent or receptive) means a person has difficulty understanding language but their speech remains fluent. However, this fluency is mostly incoherent, doesn’t make sense and is with lots of neologisms. Often these people don’t realise that they speak in this way and are using wrong words. 

– Anomic aphasia is about the difficulty in expressing the words people want to say. This is an especially interesting one because otherwise speech is fluent and coherent. 

– Primary Progressive Aphasia, which is a neurological syndrome caused by neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s Disease. Here people gradually lose their ability to use language as well as memory and other cognitive functions. 

Finally, here’s a channel of a girl who had her stroke at 18 and then made videos over the next 10 years to show her recovery from aphasia (Broca’s?). For example, 

9 month after the stroke – slow speech, separate words and chunks instead of sentences, 

5 years (!) after the stroke – slow coherent speech but relatively simple (she describes a picture mostly using Present Continuous),

7 years after the stroke – coherent, more complex speech, but she reports still having difficulty reading and writing.

This is a very inspiring story, have a look!

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