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ISAAC '98
BI-ANNUAL CONFERENCE OF THE INTERNATIONAL SOCIETY
OF  ALTERNATIVE AND AUGMENTATIVE COMMUNICATION
DUBLIN 1998

"A Pragmatic Analysis and Comparison of the Communication of Cerebral Palsied Sign, 
Symbol and Spoken Language Users, Communicating in Small Therapy Groups."

George C. Fourlas,
"logos", Institute for the Disorders of Communication.
9, G. Bakou str., GR-115 24, Athens, Greece.

Introduction

Pragmatics emphasizes intention, implicature, presupposition and interpretation in the use of language and more narrowly pragmatics can be considered to focus on the intention behind utterances, on how this intention is interpreted and on what effect it has on the encounter (Smith & Leinonen,1992). The present research is concerned with the pragmatic analysis and the comparison of sign/gesture, symbol and spoken utterances produced by a small number of school aged cerebral palsy (CP) children communicating within the context of their own therapy group.

The sign/gesture, symbol and spoken utterances have been studied and compared in terms of their illocutionary communicative function. The term illocutionary refers to the intentions of the speaker (Prutting & Kirchner,1983) and the term communicative function (Udwin & Yule,1991) is used to describe the range of purposes for which children use verbal and non-verbal language to express meanings in order to communicate in a specific communicative context.

Sample

Three groups of three CP children each, grouped according to their communicative abilities and the system of communication they use (signs, symbols, or spoken language) were studied and compared. Children were between 10:02 and 16:04 years of age. None of the groups was structured for the purposes of this study. The groups run within the school environment and children were participating in the groups for group communication therapy prior to the research for a period of six weeks . In that sense the groups were considered to be a natural environment for the participants. A number of sessions have been filmed but only two have been analyzed for each group.

Procedure

By means of an in-depth qualitative analysis of the collected data the researcher has found out which communicative functions children in the sample use through out the systems of communication in a range of group therapy sessions. Studying the intentions of the speakers the researcher has given research specific definitions for the illocutionary communicative functions identified in the sample. A classification system has been devised and used for the quantitative analysis. The classification system is one of the findings of the research.

The quantitative analysis has aimed to find whether there is any difference in the quantity of each communicative function between sign/gesture, symbol and spoken language users in these particular communicative contexts, groups and settings. Two raters have marked the sessions and the index of agreement (Robson,1993) has been used to measure inter-rater agreement in 3 of the 6 sessions. The researcher has kept observation records to collect information to use for the interpretation of the results.

Results

The following functions have been identified and defined: Informative (Informative Descriptive, Informative Expressional, Informative Experiential); Responsive (Response to the Therapist Closed Question, Response to the Therapist's Open Question, Response to a Child's Closed Question, Response to a Child's Open Question, Inappropriate Response, Echo, Elicited Action or Response); Organizational (Regulatory, Directive, Communication repair); Requests (Action request, Information request, Intentional, Permission request); Statements (Comment, Judgment, Hypothesis, Argument); Affectional/mood.

In terms of the quantitative analysis it has been found variation in the range and frequency of the functions between the groups and within the groups.

Discussion

The emerged classification system has certain advantages over existing ones. It has emerged from the analysis of natural data, it has been designed to analyze communication by means of symbols, signs & spoken language, it determines the speakers intentions without using "linguistic markers", and it can be used irrespectively to the linguistic, cognitive or motor abilities of the participants. The system has been developed for the purposes of the present research and therefore there may be a need for further experimentation before it will be widely used in research and clinical practice.

Symbol users have been found to mostly respond to the therapist questions; to rarely initiate communication; to depend largely on the speaking partner; and to be less able communicators than sign and spoken language users in terms of the range and frequency of communicative functions. Sign users have been found to use a wider range of functions than symbol users and to make more requests but less statements than spoken language users. Spoken language users use all the range of functions in considerable proportions and functions such as the "hypothetical" and the "Response to a Child's Closed Question" have been found to occur only in this group. Interaction between the children in the same group has been found limited in all the groups. Limitations of the systems of communication, children's abilities and training in the AAC means, the structure of the therapy sessions, the tasks, and the communicative roles of the participants, have been found to be responsible for variations between the groups. Implications for clinical practice are discussed.

References

  • Prutting,C. & Kirchner,D. (1983). Applied Pragmatics. in Gallagher M.T., Prutting,C. (Eds)Pragmatic Assessment and Intervention: Issues in Language. San Diego: College Hill Press,Inc.
  • Robson,C. (1993) Real World Research. Oxford: Blacwell Publishers.
  • Smith,B.R.,Leinonen,E.,(1992). Clinical Pragmatis, Unraveling the Complexities of Communicative Failure. London: Chapman & Hall.
  • Udwin,O.& Yule,W.(1991). Augmentative communication systems taught to cerebral-palsied children-a longitudinal study.II. Pragmatic features of sign and symbol use., British Journal of Disorders of Communication,26,137-148.