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Wernicke's Aphasia

An entirely different type of aphasia is Wernicke's aphasia, named after the German neurologist Carl Wernicke (VARE-neek) who described it. Wernicke's aphasia is also known as jargon aphasia. A patient with damage to Wernicke's area produces lots of language but makes no sense. Patients with Wernicke's aphasia also have trouble comprehending speech, unlike Broca's aphasics.

Kinsbourne and Warrington (1963) described a patient with Wernicke's aphasia:

What are symptoms of Wernicke's aphasia?

E.F. (the patient) was a willing subject for testing. When greeted with the question, "How are you today?" he responded as follows:

"Gossiping O.K. and Lords and cricket and England and Scotland battles. I don't know. Hypertension and two won cricket, bowling, batting, and catch, poor old things, cancellations maybe gossiping, cancellations, arm and argument, finishing bowling."

A few elements in the patient's response make sense. "O.K." and "I don't know" and "Hypertension" are all partial answers to the question, "How are you today?" The rest seems to be an involuntary intrusion of thoughts from somewhere else. Kinsbourne and Warrington noted the partial meaningfulness of the patient's speech:

His responses were recognized to be less incoherent than was at first believed when it was realized that he was regularly following private verbal associations. For example, when asked what "Strike while the iron is hot" means, he said:

"Ambition is very very and determined. Better to be good and to Post Office and Pillar Box and to distribution and to mail and survey and headmaster. Southern Railway very good and London and Scotland."

Without defining the proverb exactly he illustrated it by the example of posting a letter immediately, and this train of thought took him far afield by British Railways. (p.29)

The patient also had trouble reading words, although he often came up with associations. Shown the word "ball" and asked to read the single word out loud, he responded, "Pencil, rubber, bouncing, elliptical, expansion." Shown the word "airplane" he came back with, "Zooming, recognition, plane or zoom."

The Broca's aphasic is aware of the language difficulties and often expresses frustration; a Wernicke's aphasic may be unaware of the language problem and act surprised when people do not understand his or her speech. There is an arc-shaped bundle of nerve fibers connecting Wernicke's and Broca's areas in the brain. Normal speech requires cooperative efforts between the two areas.

The National Aphasia Association of the United States has a useful page of "Facts and Readings" at this URL:


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