Linguistics, psychology, and aphasia: What we can learn from Steinthal
SourceConcordia Reihe Monographien, 29, (1999), pp. 5-26
Article / Letter to editor
Display more detailsDisplay less details
SW OZ DCC SMN
Concordia Reihe Monographien
The study of aphasia was triggered by Franz Joseph Gall's claims about the localization of mental organs in the brain in the beginnings of the 19th century in France. Jean BaptisteBouillaud argued that patients, who had problems with speech but had not lost their intelligence, suffered from lesions in the anterior part of the brain. From 1825 until 1861 he argued, in vain, that this phenomenon supported Gall's principle of localization of function. In 1861 Paul Broca was able to convince his colleagues that indeed aphasia seems to result from anterior and not posterior lesions. However, the result of this long discussion was that 'localization of function' was the focus of attention, rather than the features of the language system itself. In the 1870's scientists in Germany became interested in the question of localization and aphasia as demonstrated by Carl Wernicke's influential book on aphasic syndromes, published in 1874. But again, the emphasis was on localization; apparently they were not interested in the unique possibilities of this 'experiment of nature', the opportunity these phenomena offer to study the language process itself. Chaim Steinthal (1823-1893), a linguist working mostly in Berlin, argued that language is a psychological process. A proper understanding of language can only result from examining actual speech production and understanding, and not from comparative and historical linguistics, as most of his colleagues appeared to believe. He developed his ideas about the nature of the language system first in a book titled 'Grammatik, Logik, und Psychologie', published in 1855. He produced a new version of it in 1871 under the title 'Abriss der Sprachwissenschaften'. However, he added a part dealing with aphasia. His goal was to show how from his theoretical framework different types of language disturbances could be deduced. In 1874, Steinthal had the opportunity to defend his views in a discussion with famous physicians, like Virchow, Westphal and Hitzig, in a meeting of the Berlin Anthropological Society. Apparently, the physicians considered his views too speculative. Steinthal's approach and his warnings were neglected and Wernicke's theory, 'solidly founded on neuro-anatomical studies', prevailed. That was unfortunate - I will argue that Steinthal was actually pointing out a very productive way to study aphasia, one that only recently has been rediscovered.
Upload full text
Use your RU credentials (u/z-number and password) to log in with SURFconext to upload a file for processing by the repository team.