Clinical Linguistics on the offensive

News summary

On Tuesday April 12th we held the annual colloquium of the British Association of Clinical Linguistics. The session culminated with a discussion on how to teach language analysis to speech and language therapy students. A number of fascinating issues were raised, including which theoretical approaches to adopt, and how to describe language use in informal contexts. It was strongly felt that clinical linguistics needs to go on the offensive by developing theories which can account for disordered language use, and demanding more space in the speech and language therapy curriculum.


Forum on teaching linguistic analysis to speech and language Therapy students

British Association of Clinical Linguistics Colloquium

Leeds Metropolitan University

Tuesday April 12th 2011

Four discussants were invited to give short (7 minute) presentations on teaching linguistic analysis to speech and language therapy students. The speakers were Vesna Stojanovik (VS), University of Reading, Ian Crookston (IC), Leeds Metropolitan University, Sara Howard (SH), Sheffield University, and Carolyn Letts (CL), Newcastle University. After the discussants had given their presentations, questions and contributions were taken from the floor.

Summary of presentations

VS spoke about teaching generative approaches at Reading. She argued that this approach was useful as it was a familiar framework for all researchers and academics within the department. It gives students formal criteria to identify syntactic categories; the building blocks of syntax. It also enables students to access the research literature. There are, however, a few disadvantages. The students have difficulties with the terminology, and there is often not enough space in the curriculum to teach linguistic theory in any depth. VS also uses a narrative discourse framework; Stein & Glenn’ Story Grammar, and teaches basic Conversation Analysis.

IC spoke of the relationship between clinical and theoretical linguistics, which he likened to a middle-age marriage between two individuals who can’t live together, but can’ t live apart. He argued that theoretical linguistics could not easily deal with clinical data. Firstly, he argued that whereas theoretical linguistics tends to cull data from formal registers, clinical data is derived in an informal setting. Secondly, clinical data is a lot “messier” showing greater variation between individuals, and errors which may be unique to that speaker. Therefore, while a formal theoretical approach would involve proposing a theory, and then investigate its predictions using data from formal registers, a clinical approach is more exploratory, zero-ing in on unusual patterns of language use, and then using these to motivate or challenge current theories. What is needed is a linguistic theory which is capable of dealing with informal language use.

SH spoke about the erosion of phonetics in the curriculum. She warned against the dangers of a vicious circle whereby few therapists use phonetics in the clinic, therefore its space within the curriculum gets downgraded, therefore fewer therapists use phonetics in the clinic, and so on. Too little time spent on phonetics means that therapists are often afraid to use it, therefore avoid using it, and hence become deskilled. On the plus side, the development of e-learning may allow students to explore phonetics outside of formal teaching. SH emphasised the need to analyse real conversation, and to study phonetic processes above the single-word level.

CL spoke about the LARSP framework. She argued that this framework was a useful means of identifying areas of language in children which were in need of attention. Teaching of LARSP should be supplemented by the use of case studies, which gives the students a “pay off”.

Issues raise during the discussion

- Perhaps the most important point to be raised was that linguistics should be taught throughout all years of the degree programme, not in a chunk at the beginning.

- Clinical linguistics needs to go on the offensive to prove its worth.

- We need to look at interactional data, not just isolated language examples.

- Teachers ought to bring their own unique personal perspective to courses, as this enables them to teach with enthusiasm and passion.

- Clinicians often do a LARSP-style analysis in their heads, even if they don’t do a formal LARSP

- Clinicians need to be taught a set of tools which they can take with them.

- One individual cautiously and reservedly welcomed the greater involved of the private sector. They argued that the private sector would have more of an impetus for innovative bespoke treatment, would be more open to new ideas, and possibly more open to linguistic analysis.