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Gesture, prosody and verbal content in non-fluent aphasic speech

  • Ferré, Gaëlle1
  • 1 Université de Poitiers UFR Lettres et langues, France , (France)
Published Article
Multimodal Communication
De Gruyter
Publication Date
Jan 07, 2021
DOI: 10.1515/mc-2020-0016
De Gruyter


Non-fluent aphasia is characterized by frequent word search and a much slower speech rate than non-aphasic speech. For patients with this type of aphasia, communication with those around them is therefore made difficult and is often severely impaired. One of the therapeutic proposals to improve the quality of life of these patients is to re-educate them with more multimodal alternatives. This of course assumes that gestures represent possible alternative means of communication for patients, and that their gestures are not affected in the same way as their speech. This article therefore proposes to study the gestures of 4 aphasic people and to compare them to the gestures performed by non-aphasic people, but also to establish correspondences between those gestures, intonation contours and the way people with aphasia develop their discourse. Results show that although gesture rate is not different in the two groups of participants, the gesture-to-speech ratio is higher for people with aphasia (PWA) than for non-aphasic people (NAP). Considering the fact that PWA also gesture more than NAP during silent pauses, which are longer but not more frequent than in NAP’s speech, and the fact that their gestures coincide less often with a lexical word, we believe that PWA use their gestures as compensation strategies for deficient speech. Yet, their speech impairment is also reflected in their gesturing: more gestures are prepared but abandoned before the stroke in this group and pre-stroke holds are longer, which means that PWA hold their gestures in the hope that they will better coincide with the word they are supposed to accompany and which takes more time to be uttered than in non-pathological speech. Their gestures are also less linked to each other than in the NAP group which goes hand in hand with the fact that they tend to utter independent syntactic phrases with no cohesive marker between them. This is also reflected in their less frequent use of flat and rising tones in intonation, which generally indicate that two sentence parts are dependent one upon the other, as well as their less frequent use of gestures showing discourse organization. In terms of gesture types, the PWA in this study perform many rhythmic beats and rely much on conventional gestures to compensate for their speech impairment rather than on their own creativity. Globally, this means that if multimodal therapies may benefit PWA to improve their communication with other people, speech therapists nevertheless need to be aware that life-long habits of gesture-speech alignment and synchronization may not be so easy to overcome for patients.

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