At A Loss For Words Essay

1527 words - 7 pages

At a Loss for Words

“I did not feel like A.H. Raskin. I now had a new self, a person who no longer could use words with mastery.” ~A.H. Raskin, editor for the NY Times

Language is the principal means whereby we formulate our thoughts and convey them to others. It allows us to disclose our fondest memories of the past and communicate our emotions. Language has been instilled in us ever since we were babies inside our mother’s womb. We often take language for granted since most of us have never had to live a life of silence. It is perhaps because of this that people who have suffered brain damage caused by strokes, gunshot wounds, brain tumors, or other traumatic brain injuries feel a ...view middle of the document...

The two get their names from Paul Broca, a French neurosurgeon, and Carl Wernicke, a German neurologist who identified their respective parts in the mid-1800s (2). Broca’s area describes the lower rear portion of the frontal lobe on the left side that is in front of the motor strip (4). Patients with Broca’s aphasia often omit small words such as “is”, “and”, and “the (5).” A person with this type of aphasia may say, “Walk dog” meaning, “I will take the dog for a walk.” What is said usually makes sense and is understood, but it is very compressed. Broca’s aphasics are often aware that they are having language difficulties. This level of self-awareness means that they often respond well to treatment. On the other hand, Wernicke’s area is located in the temporal lobe behind the primary auditory cortex (4). Patients with Wernicke’s aphasia tend to speak in long sentences that have no meaning, often creating new words (5). Someone with Wernicke’s aphasia may say, “You know that smoodle pinkered and that I want to get him round and take care of him like you want before,” meaning “The dog needs to go out so I will take him for a walk (5).” Opposite of Broca’s aphasia, people with Wernicke’s aphasia have difficulty with comprehension, yet they often remain unaware of their language difficulties and become annoyed or frustrated when others can’t understand them. Due to this lack of self-awareness, Wernicke’s aphasics rarely respond to treatment.

The idea of self-awareness is an interesting one in the case of aphasics. Psychology textbooks often teach us that self-awareness stems from being aware of others of your species, and then becoming aware, possibly from how others treat you, that you are one of them (6). Furthermore, self-awareness, especially in humans, includes not only awareness of one’s physical self, but also of one’s own personality and character, reflected psychologically in the reactions of other people (6). So then could we presume that Wernicke’s aphasics would respond better to treatment if we didn’t look at them funny every time they spoke? Surely anyone’s recovery or responsiveness to treatment depends on your surroundings and the encouragement from other people.

Although we may think of aphasics as having a huge disadvantage in today’s society where language seems to be the root of any sort of success, after all being able to express one’s desires or goals is appealing. Aphasics have actually been shown to have an interesting advantage over those of us dominated by our left-hemispheres. They are skilled at spotting liars by reading facial expressions (7). Who would have thought? Aphasics in a study done by Nancy Etcoff were shown to have an unusual ability to tell when someone is lying seventy-three percent of the time (7). Non-aphasics had only about a fifty-fifty chance of spotting a liar (7). This would suggest that the brain’s right hemisphere, the undamaged half in aphasia patients, is better than the left half at...

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