"That mea::n dog": Linguistic mischief and verbal play as a communicative resource in aphasia

Julie Hengst

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Linguists, sociolinguists, and anthropologists point to verbal play (e.g., rhyming, punning, teasing) as a pervasive communicative practice that crosses contexts, serves developmental and interpersonal functions, and foregrounds participants' metacommunicative awareness, as utterances must be framed as playful. Researchers investigating the communicative practices of persons with aphasia have yet to explore the presence and functions of verbal play. Aims: This study (1) presents a system for descriptively coding interactional forms, resources, and functions of verbal play; (2) documents verbal play in interactions of individuals with aphasia and partners; and (3) offers a close discourse analysis of a series of playful episodes. Methods and procedures: Derived from a broader ethnographic study of individuals with aphasia and their routine partners, this exploratory study analysed 13 hours of videotape data obtained in four sessions with each of four pairs (an individual with aphasia and a partner) playing a game-like barrier task. A grounded theory approach was used to develop descriptive codes, and those codes were used to support situated discourse analysis of playful episodes. Outcomes and results: With 1005 playful episodes identified, verbal play was a pervasive practice for these pairs. Playful episodes were diverse in form and function, and their production was dynamic as participants drew on the evolving interactions, recycled playful themes, shifted in and out of playful frames, and managed multiple functions simultaneously. Conclusions: This analysis of the pervasive character of verbal play and the ongoing management of multiple frames highlights the complexity, heterogeneity, and distributed nature of situated communication. From a sociogenetic perspective, such rich, complex interactions could be a key ground for reorganisation of communicative practices and resources after aphasia, a theoretical and practical possibility of great interest to clinicians and researchers alike.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)312-326
Number of pages15
Issue number2-4
StatePublished - Feb 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Otorhinolaryngology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • LPN and LVN


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