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Main article: Aphasia

Agrammatism is a form of expressive aphasia that refers to the inability to speak in a grammatically correct fashion. [1]. The person usually has a full vocabulary but is unable to order the words grammaitically

People with agrammatism may have telegraphic speech [2], a unique speech pattern with simplified formation of sentences, akin to that found in telegraph messages. Common errors made in agrammatism include jargon aphasia [3], or the use of meaningless or neologistic phrases, and syntactical aphasia[4], wherein necessary elements for sentence construction are missing. Common errors include errors in tense, number, and gender[5].



Agrammatism is seen in many brain disease syndromes, including Broca's aphasia and traumatic brain injury.

History Edit

Early History Edit

Agrammatism was first coined by Adolf Kussmaul in 1887 to explain the inability to form words grammatically and to syntactically order them into a sentence. Later on, Goodglass defined the term as the omission of connective words, -auxiliaries and inflectional morphemes, all of these generating a speech production with extremely rudimentary grammar. Agrammatism, today seen as a symptom of the Broca's syndrome (Tesak & Code, 2008), has been also referred as 'motor aphasia' (Goldstein, 1948), 'syntactic aphasia' (Wepman & Jones, 1964), 'efferent motor aphasia' (Luria, 1970), and 'non-fluent aphasia' (Goodglass et al., 1964).

The early accounts of agrammatism involved cases of German and French participants. The greater sophistication of the German school of aphasiology at the turn of the 20th century and also the fact that both German and French are highly inflected languages, might have been triggers for that situation (Code, 1991). Nowadays, the image has slightly changed: grammatical impairment has been found to be selective rather than complete, and a cross-linguistic perspective under the framework of Universal Grammar (UG) together with a shift from morphosyntax to morphosemantics is à la page. Now the focus of study in agrammatism embraces all natural languages and the idiosyncrasies scholars think a specific language has are put in relation to other languages so as to better understand agrammatism, help its treatment, and review and advance in the field of theoretical linguistics.

From a cross-linguistic perspective under the framework of Universal Grammar (UG), grammatical impairment in agrammatism has been found to be selective rather than complete. Under this line of thought, the impairment in tense production for agrammatic speakers is currently being approached in different natural languages by means of the study of verb inflection for tense in contrast to agreement (a morphosyntactic approach) and also, more recently, by means of the study of time reference (which, in a sense, should be seen closer to morphosemantics). The type of studies this paper should be related with are those dealing with tense impairment under the framework of time reference. Prior to explaining that, to help understand the goals of such research, it is good to give a taste of the shift from morphosyntax to morphosemantics the study of agrammatism is undergoing.

Verb Inflection Edit

Verb inflection for tense has been found to be problematic in several languages. Different scholars have come up with different theories to explain it: Friedman & Grodzinksy (1997) introduced the so-called Tree Pruning Hypothesis (TPH) from the study of Hebrew, Arabic, and English; the same hypothesis has been proved by Gavarró & Martínez-Ferreiro (2007) for what they called Ibero-Romance (that is, Catalan, Galician, and Castillian); Wenzlaff & Clahsen (2004; 2005) introduced the Tense Underespecification Hypothesis (TUH) for German, and by the same time Bruchert et al. (2005) introduced the Tense and Agreement Underespecification Hypothesis (TAUH) for the same language; and Lee et al. (2008), and Faroqi-Shah & Dickey (2009) introduced a morphosemantic hypothesis, arguing that the diacritic tense features are affected in English agrammatism.

Interestingly enough, Bastiaanse (2008) did not find such dissociation for Dutch but rather that reference to the past is more impaired regardless of verb inflection or agreement. Her research found that finite verbs are more difficult than non-finite verbs, but both within the finite verbs and within the nonfinite verbs, the forms referring to the past (third person singular past tense and participle respectively) are more difficult than their counterparts referring to the present (third person singular present tense and infinitives). None of the hypotheses on verb forms aforementioned (TPH, TUH, and TAUH) can account for these results, ever since participles in Dutch are not inflected for tense and agreement nor do they check their features in the left periphery. Similar findings have been also reported for Greek and for English respectively in a re-analysis of Nanousi et al.'s (2006) and Lee et al.'s (2008) data, and also for Turkish in Yarbay, Duman & Bastiaanse (2009). In any case, the conclusion of Bastiaanse (2008) was that an additional hypothesis expressing that agrammatic speakers have difficulty making reference to the past was needed. In that same paper she unveiled two possible answers: (a) it could be that representations of events in the past are semantically more complex, possibly because there are two time periods of relevance. (b) It might also be the case that it is not so much reference to the past as such that is difficult for agrammatic speakers, but to express this reference by verb inflection.

Probably Bastiaanse et al. (subm.) hold the key. In their study, one reads that both tense and aspect are impaired and, most importantly, that reference to the past is selectively impaired both through simple verb forms (such as simple present in English) and through periphrastic verb forms (such as the present perfect in English). Bastiaanse et al. (subm.) argued that reference to the past is discourse linked and reference to the present and future is not. This is in line with Avrutin (2000) who suggests discourse linking is impaired in Broca’s aphasia.

The notion of discourse linking is originally due to Pesetsky (1987) and should be seen in regard to discourse presupposition which is a basic notion in linguistics and, more concretely, in semantics and pragmatics (for further information: Stalnaker, 1973). To the extent it involves language, discourse linking should be seen in contrast to a local binding relation. A clear example of a binding relation can be found in a sentence like 'The boyi is washing himselfi' where the pronoun 'himself' refers to 'the boy' within the same sentence. An example of discourse linking is found in a sentence like 'The boyi is washing himj' where the pronoun 'him' refers to someone not mentioned in the sentence (it is extra-sentential information) and, therefore, for the pronoun to be understood there is a requirement to access to previously provided information. Similar examples of such relations can be found in which-questions and, with relevance to this study, in tense and agreement. Avrutin (2000) argued that agreement is a purely morphosyntactic system, with no discourse operations involved and, therefore, it establishes a binding relation whereas tense requires access to the discourse representation and, therefore, it establishes a discourse linking relation. Zagona (2003) reasoned that present tense indicates simultaneity between evaluation time and event time (binding relation). Past tense, on the other hand, lacks this simultaneity and indicates a need for establishing a relation between speech time and an earlier event (discourse linking).

Although Bastiaanse's et al. (subm.) conclusions are not as broad as Avruitin's (2000) and do not strictly look at tense but at time reference, they are supported by several findings: Bastiaanse et al., (2009) and Faroqi-Shah & Dickey (2009) found more problems with verb forms and aspectual adverbs referring to the past in agrammatic aphasic individuals; Jonkers et al., (2007) and Faroqi-Shah & Dickey (2009) reflected longer RTs in non-brain-damaged individuals; and Dragoy et al. (in preparation) are about to present an ERP and an RT experiment of tense violations in Dutch where they have found higher error rates and longer reaction times for the violations by a past tense verb in contrast with present tense.

Bastiaanse et al. (subm.), formulated the PAst DIscourse LInking Hypothesis (PADILIH) with the aim of testing three predictions: (1) selective impairment of grammatical morphology is used for reference to the past, while reference to the present and future are relatively spared (2) this impairment is language–independent; (3) this impairment will occur in both production and comprehension. In order to do so, their research puts into practice the Test for Assessing Reference of Time (TART; Bastiaanse et al., unpub.) in Chinese, English and Turkish agrammatic speakers. The results demonstrate that both English and Turkish agrammatic speakers show the hypothesized selective deficit for reference to the past, despite the great typological difference between the languages. The Chinese agrammatic speakers are poor in producing reference to the past as well by producing grammatical morphology, but reference to the present and future are also severely affected. The results on the subtest for comprehension are strikingly similar for the three languages: reference to the past is impaired. These results confirm the PADILIH: reference to the past is discourse linked and, therefore, grammatical morphology used for reference to the past is impaired in agrammatic aphasia, whether this is done through tense and / or aspect markers.

Agrammatism in Catalan Edit

There is little written about Agrammatism in Catalan. The beginnings of the field should be encountered in the work of Peña-Casanova & Bagunyà-Durich (1998), and Junque et al. (1989). These papers do not describe case reports, they are rather concerned in more general topics such as lesion localization or rehabilitation of agrammatic patients.

The most updated studies should be found in the work of Martínez-Ferreiro (2009). The work of Martínez-Ferreiro is under the so-called Tree Pruning Hypothesis (TPH) Friedmann & Grodzinksy (2007). Such a hypothesis is somewhat lagging behind after the findings in Bastiaanse (2008) have been and are being proved by means of a re-analysis of Nanousi et al.'s (2006) and Lee et al.'s (2008) data, the work of Yarbay Duman & Bastiaanse (2009) and, specially, Bastiaanse et al. (subm.).

Other rather updated work for Agrammatism in Catalan should be found in Martínez-Ferreiro in collaboration with Gavarró (2007), in Gavarró herself (2008, 2003a, 2003b, 2002), Balaguer et al. (2004),in Peña-Casanova et al. (2001), and in Sánchez-Casas (2001).


  1. Dorland's Medical Dictionary, Agrammatism, [1]
  2. Goodglass H. Agrammatism in aphasiology. Clin Neurosci. 1997;4(2):51-6. [2]
  3. Moses MS, Nickels LA, Sheard C. Disentangling the web: neologistic perseverative errors in jargon aphasia. Neurocase. 2004 Dec;10(6):452-61. [3]
  4. Knibb JA, Xuereb JH, Patterson K, Hodges JR. Clinical and pathological characterization of progressive aphasia. Ann Neurol. 2006 Jan;59(1):156-65. [4]
  5. Agrammatism in aphasics and normals.

Further readingEdit

Further readingEdit


  • Code, C. (1991). The characteristics of aphasia. Hove: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Ltd.
  • Goldstein, K. (1948). Language and language disturbances: Aphasic symptom complexes and their significance for medicine and theory of language. New York: Grune & Stratton.
  • Grodzinksy, Y., Shapiro, L. & Swinney, D. (eds.)(2000). Language and the Brain: Representation and Processing. San Diego: Academic Press.
  • Goodglass, H. (1976). Agrammatism. In H. Whitaker & H. A. Whitaker (Eds), Studies in neurolinguistics, Vol. 1. New York: Academic Press.
  • Kussmaul, A. (1877). Die Störungen der Sprache: Versuch einer Pathologie der Sprache. Leipzig: Vogel.
  • Luria, A. R. (1970). Traumatic aphasia: Its syndromes, psychology and treatment. The Hague: Mouton.
  • Pesetsky, D. (1987). Wh-in-Situ: Movement and Unselective Binding. E. Reuland & A. ter Meulen (eds.) The representation of (in)defniniteness, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Tesak, J. & Code, C. (2008). Milestones in the history of aphasia: Theories and protagonists. Hove, UK: Psychology Press.
  • Zagona, K. (2003). Tense and anaphora: Is there a tense‐specific theory of coreference. In Barrs, A. (ed.) Anaphora: A Reference Guide. (pp 140‐171). Oxford: Blackwell.


  • Avrutin, S. (2000). Comprehension of discourse‐linked and non-discourse-linked questions by children and Broca’s aphasics. In Grodzinksy, Y., Shapiro, L. & Swinney, D. (eds.) Language and the Brain: Representation and Processing. San Diego: Academic Press.
  • Balaguer, R.D.; Costa, A.; Sebastián-Galles, N.; Juncadella, M. & Caramazza, A. (2004). Regular and irregular morphology and its relationship with agrammatism: Evidence from two Spanish-Catalan bilinguals. Brain and Language, (Article in press).
  • Bastiaanse, R. (2008). Production of verbs in base position by Dutch agrammatic speakers:Inflection versus finiteness. Journal of Neurolinguistics, 21, 104-119.
  • Bastiaanse, R., Bamyaci, E., Chien, J.H, Lee, J., Thompson, C.K., & Yarbay Duman, T., (subm.). Time reference in agrammatic aphasia: a cross-linguistic study.
  • Bastiaanse, R., Bouma G., & Post, W. (2009). Linguistic complexity and frequency in agrammatic speech production. Brain and Language,109, 18–28.
  • Bastiaanse, R., Jonkers, R. & Thompson, C.K. (unpubl.) Test for Assessment of Reference of Time (TART). University of Groningen.
  • Burchert, F., Swoboda-Moll, M. & de Bleser, R. (2005). Tense and agreement dissociations in German agrammatic speakers: underspecification vs. hierarchy. Brain and Language,94, 188-199.
  • Dragoy, O., Bos, L. S., Stowe, L.A. & Bastiaanse, R. (in preparation). Time reference processing studied with ERP. To appear in NeuroImage.
  • Faroqi–Shah, Y. & Dickey, M.W. (2009). On-line processing of tense and temporality inagrammatic aphasia. Brain and Language, 108, 97-111.
  • Friedmann, N., & Grodzinsky, Y. (1997). Tense and agreement in agrammatic production: Pruning the syntactic tree. Brain and Language, 56, 397-425.
  • Gavarró, Anna (2003a). Modals and aspectuals as functional projections: implications for acquisition and agrammatism. In C. Pusch (ed.) Verbal periphrases in the (Ibero-) Romance languages, Romanistik in Geschichte und Gegenwart; Beihefte 9, Hamburgo: Buske Verlag, 231-244.
  • Gavarró, Anna (2003b). Move and Agree in Agrammatic comprehension, Research report GGT-03-07, Bellaterra, Barcelona. Available at:
  • Gavarró, A. (2008). Binding and co-reference in Catalan agrammatism, The Academy of Aphasia Meeting, Turku, 20 October.
  • Gavarró, A. and B. Laca (2002). ‘Les perífrasis temporals, aspectuals i modals.’ In J. Solà, M. R. Lloret, J. Mascaró and M. Pérez-Saldanya (eds.) Gramàtica del català contemporani, Vol. 3, Barcelona: Empúries, 2663-2726.
  • Gavarró, A. and S. Martínez-Ferreiro (2007). Tense and Agreement impairment in Ibero-romance, Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 36, 25-46.
  • Goodglass, H., Quadfasel, F.A., & Timberlake, W.H. (1964). Phrase length and the type and severity of aphasia. Cortex, 7, 133-155.
  • Jonkers, R., Boers, J, Koopmans, F, Menninga, A., & Zoodsma, J. (2007). (Reactie)tijd.[Reaction time] TABU, 36, 117-126.
  • Junque, C. Vendrell, P., Vendrell-Brucet, J.M, & Tobeña, A. (1989). Diffferential recovery in maning in bilingual aphasics. Brain and Language, 36, 116-1122.
  • Lee, J., Milman, L. & Thompson, C.K. (2008). Functional category production in English agrammatism. Aphasiology, 22, 239-264.
  • Nanousi, V., Masterson, J, Druks, J. & Atkinson, M. (2006). Interpretable vs. uninterpretable features: Evidence from six Greek‐speaking agrammatic patients. Journal of Neurolinguistics, 19, 209-238.
  • Peña-Casanova, J. & Bagunyà-Durich, J. (1988). Bases anatomo-funcionals del llenguatge: Un model avançat. Limits, 4, 19-37.
  • Peña-Casanova, J.; Diéguez-Vide, F.; Lluent, R. & Bohm, P. (2001). On Manifestation of Aphasia in Catalan: A Case Study of Broca’s Aphasia. Journal of Neurolinguistics, 14, 159-177.
  • Stalnaker, R. (1973). Presuppositions Journal of Philosophical Logic. 2, 4, 447-457.
  • Wenzlaff, M. & Clahsen, H. (2004). Tense and agreement in German agrammatism. Brain and Language, 89, 57-68.
  • Wenzlaff, M. & Clahsen, H. (2005). Finiteness and verb‐second in German agrammatism. Brain and Language, 92, 33-44.
  • Wepman, J. & Jones, L. (1964). Five aphasias: a commentary on aphasia as a regressive linguistic phenomenon. Research Publications of the Association for Research in Nervous and Mental Disease, 42, 190-203.
  • Yarbay Duman, T & Bastiaanse, R. (2009). Time reference through verb inflection in Turkish agrammatic aphasia. Brain and Language, 108, 30-39.


  • Martínez-Ferreiro, S. (2003). Verbal Inflectional Morphology in Broca’s Aphasia. M.A. Thesis. Available at
  • Martínez-Ferreiro, S. (2009). Towards a Characterization of Agrammatism in Ibero-Romance. Doctoral Thesis. Available at
  • Sánchez-Casas. R. M. (2001). Estudio del componente léxico y morfosintáctico en pacientes afásicos bilingües del catalán y del castellano. Tesis doctoral. Universitat Rovira i Virgili.
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