Aphasia And The Super Heroes

Back in the days, when I was in school, if you read comic books you were a huge nerd. I was one of them. It was the early 90’s and the X-Men was a big hit among super heroes with fascinating stories, captivating plots, a whole new universe that easily caught my attention. Then the 21st century came and what we have been witnessing since then is an invasion of super heroes and just like that, we are all nerds and that is cool. What very few people realize is that comic book characters have a gigantic social load underneath their skins, full of behavioral issues, health issues, political issues and also linguistic issues .

Let’s take Marvel’s big hit ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ as an example. There is this tree-like super hero called Groot whose linguistic competence is limited to and only to this sentence “I am Groot” in this exact order. Which means that whatever a person asks him, tells him, he will utter “I am Groot” and this reminds me of a very serious impairment called aphasia, more precisely, Wernicke’s aphasia. I am far from being a medical doctor, but for those who are getting in touch with this term for the first time, Wernicke’s aphasia is an impairment as a result of a vascular accident or a severe brain injury on the posterior temporal lobe of the left hemisphere of the brain thus interfering speech production. This type of aphasia makes their patients provide utterances that do not provide any continuity to the conversation, although for patients with aphasia (PWAs) they sound themselves absolutely fine, as if their response was pragmatically acceptable for the conversation. Using the example of the film mentioned above we can notice the question in (1) and Groot’s response in (2).

(1) Where did you learn to do that?

(2) I am Groot.

Considering the pragmatic perspective of a dialogue, one needs to use linguistic data that is shared with the interlocutor so that a conversation happens. In (1) we can notice the desire of the speaker for some information that is not provided accordingly given the response does not fulfill the speaker’s request. However, intention is a linguistic feature that has been revisited in the works by Austin (Rajagopalan, 2010) thus the notion of constative utterances tend to be very strict and the performative ones tend to be more frequent which means that whenever a person utters there is always a purpose and an intention. Having understood that, it is possible to study the productions of PWAs, more precisely patients with Wernicke’s aphasia, and investigate the possibility of a locutionary act in their speech. There are some studies that indicate a trace of intention in their speech. Murteira & Santos (2013) state that some PWAs paraphrase in certain situations which may be an evidence of understanding even though their utterances may sometimes stall the entire conversation. If a thorough study brings to surface the hypothesis of a trace of intention, then a linguist can implement some tasks in order to rebuild PWAs speech.

(3) No, Groot! You’ll die! Why are you doing this? Why?

(4) We.. are Groot.

Those who watched the Guardians Of The Galaxy will remember this scene which is in fact a very emotional one. Groot saves his friends by giving up his own life and then he finally changes the subject, from ‘I’ to ‘we’ as can be seen in (4). This instance, although it is only a flick, may be the spark that linguists need to go further in studies that will impact over 3 million Americans who have struggled to communicate due to several types of aphasia. Why is that character a motivation? For starters, having one of the main characters of a blockbuster with a communication impairment and also be a hero is awesome. In addition, knowing that there are people with difficulties in communication can lead linguists to a better understanding of how a language is acquired – a long disputed battle. Results from comprehension tests have displayed a silver lining for the reconstruction of the language where PWAs showed some understanding of idioms (Murteira & Santos, 2013; Burchert, Hanne & Vasishth, 2012), therefore, it is possible to use these instances and turn them into a more coherent utterance.

So, even though Groot performs the very same words in the very same order for whatever a person tells him, the fact he replies and his variety of intonation display comprehension of what is being said to him. Maybe through a very intensive treatment using the Usage-based Learning study (Tomasello, 2003), with a lot of exposure and repetition from both the linguist and the patient, the brain might compensate its impairment and finally produce more comprehensible utterances.

0 respostas

Deixe uma resposta

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Deixe uma resposta

O seu endereço de e-mail não será publicado. Campos obrigatórios são marcados com *