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Aphasia and Syntax Processing in Written Production

Group leader: Ingrid Behrns
E-mail: ingrid.behrns@neuro.gu.se

Research projects

Aphasia and Syntax Processing in Written Production

Aphasia, a language disorder following acquired brain damage, most frequently occurs after a stroke in the dominant language hemisphere of the brain. Its incidence in Sweden, according to the Swedish Aphasia Association (Afasiförbundet), is 12,000 new cases every year, about 35 per cent of whom are of working age. Aphasia entails difficulties finding the right word, formulating sentences and understanding language. The majority of people with aphasia also have problems with reading and writing.

In recent times, the ability to translate an idea or a concept into written language has become ever more important in professional and social life in modern Western societies as new technologies have opened up a wide variety of opportunities for interaction through the written medium. What is more, written communication is also an increasingly important element in the representation of self; the act of writing has been described as an act of identity. Losing the ability to write, wholly or in part, may therefore change a person’s life dramatically.

The aim of this research project is to study aphasia and the writing process, focusing on syntax in written narratives. More specifically, the project will:

  • study syntax processing in aphasia, especially in written production;
  • study the interaction between syntax processing and the remainder of the network of sub-processes and cognitive functions during the production of a text;
  • study the relationship between written production and spoken production.

The research project will study both the writing process (all of the work that is behind a completed text) and the text (the final product as it is presented to the reader). The focus on syntax processing has been chosen for several reasons. The first is that syntactic deficits constitute a well-described symptom of aphasia (mainly based on observations of spoken language). The second is that little is known about the relationship between syntactic ability and writing ability in general – indeed, this is the subject of some controversy, for example as regards second-language learners. Finally, syntax seems to be particularly important for perceived text coherence and thus presumably for communicative success. Our earlier studies showed that the syntactic structure of stories written by people with aphasia had a large impact on whether a reader rated the stories as coherent or not. Those studies also showed an improvement in syntactic structure in participants with aphasia who had learned to use a computer-based writing aid, even when they had not received any training in syntax.

The project started in January 2013. It will run for four years and involve 32 participants. There are three sub-projects: (1) ‘My Story’, where results from a group of participants with aphasia will be compared with results from a control group of healthy participants; (2) Writing Ability over Time, where participants with aphasia will be followed during two years and written- and spoken-language data will be collected; and (3) Computer-Based Writing Aids, where participants with aphasia will be offered computer-based writing training and the effects on their written language will be analysed and related to their spoken-language production.

The project will yield important knowledge about aphasia and the related symptoms, and it will be useful for the development of intervention strategies relating to writing difficulties. Results from the project will also generate new insights that will be valuable to writing research in general.

Research team:

  • Ingrid Behrns, SLP, PhD, Division of Speech and Language Pathology, Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology, University of Gothenburg
  • Åsa Wengelin, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Swedish, University of Gothenburg
  • PhD Student

The project is funded by the Swedish Research Council.












Contact Information

Ingrid Behrns

Division of Speech and Language Pathology, Department of Clinical Neuroscience and Rehabilitation, Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology, Sahlgrenska Academy at University of Gothenburg, P O Box 452, SE405 30 Gothenburg, Sweden

+46 31 786 6883


Page Manager: Katja Laakso|Last update: 6/7/2013

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