Formulaic expressions in spontaneous speech of left- and right-hemisphere-damaged subjects

Diana Van Lancker Sidtis, Whitney Anne Postman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: The preservation of swearing, serial speech, and speech formulas is well documented in clinical descriptions of aphasia. Proper nouns and sentence stems have also been reported in the residual speech of severely aphasic subjects. The incidence of formulaic expressions in spontaneous speech of right-hemisphere-damaged subjects has not yet been well examined. Recent interest in formulaic expressions (FEs) in normal language use, combined with the converging evidence of a role for the right hemisphere in processing pragmatic elements of language, led to this study. Methods & Procedures: We undertook an examination of hypotheses about the hemispheric processing of FEs in the spontaneous speech of persons with left hemisphere (LH) and right hemisphere (RH) damage. Based on preserved use of formulaic expressions in clinically described aphasic speech, the hypothesis under examination in this study was that the intact RH has a role in the production of formulaic expressions. Further inquiries involved possible differences in incidence in the speech samples between subsets of FEs, such as proper nouns and discourse particles. Outcomes & Results: Our results indicate a greater proportion of FEs in the spontaneous speech of persons with LH damage, and proportionally fewer FEs in RH speech, when compared to normal control speakers. Examination of the incidence of separate categories indicates a paucity of proper noun production in the LH group, supporting the association of proper noun anomia with LH damage. Pragmatically determined vocal elements (pause fillers, discourse elements) were least present in RH dysfunction. These results suggest that clinical evaluation of formulaic as well as novel language functions may give important insights into the language disorder profile of various neurological populations. The identification of relatively preserved formulaic expressions in LH damage may provide a basis for a more effective treatment plan, while evaluation of RH damaged individuals using this perspective may identify communication disorders not previously recognised. Conclusions: These results support the notion that an intact RH supports use of some types of formulaic language.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)411-426
Number of pages16
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Otorhinolaryngology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • LPN and LVN


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