Too close for comfort: aphasia and mediocre poetry


Aphasia is a neurological disorder that affects speech comprehension and speech production. It has been suggested that aphasic speech and poetry bear some resemblance.

In a recent study, Albert-Jan. Roskam found that poems of mediocre quality and aphasic transcripts may be indistinguishable, especially for men. His findings raise questions on gender differences in the specialization of the left brain hemisphere in the context of poetry.

To test the hypothesis that poems of mediocre quality and aphasic transcripts cannot be distinguished, Roskam surveyed employees of a Dutch medical center and subscribers of a statistical newsgroup on the internet. Respondents were presented four pairs of poems and aphasic transcripts.

Poems were rated slightly higher than aphasic transcripts. Among men, there were no significant differences between ratings of poems and aphasic speech. Women rated poems slightly but significantly higher than aphasic transcripts.


Update: aphasia, contemporary poetry

Responding to my 14 july post, “Contemporary poetry: schizophrenia vs. aphasia,” reader Albert-Jan from the Netherlands writes that he’s putting together a proposal for a doctoral thesis and seeks “one poem and one aphasic transcript … “I think I’d be most convincing if it’s hard or impossible to distinguish one text from the other. I haven’t done much research yet, but I’d be very grateful if you could send me some examples. I am intending to look in a book on psychopathology for transcripts on aphasia. Just email me and perhaps we could join forces.”

He provides a link to a documentary video about aphasia (Director: Mores McWreath, October 2005). The goal of the video, Picturing Aphasia, is “to allow people who have just developed aphasia an opportunity to understand that rehabilitation is not only possible but likely.” The link leads to unedited transcripts of the interviews conducted for the film, and a full transcript of the final edited documentary.