First Advisor

Jeanette DeCarrico

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages


Teaching English as a Second Language




Language disorders in old age, Lexical grammar, Alzheimer's disease -- Patients



Physical Description

1 online resource (vi, 130 p.)


Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia, is estimated to occur in up to sixteen percent of people between the ages of 75 and 84. Deficits in linguistic skills that effect communication are a hallmark of the disease and have been the primary focus of past Alzheimer's research. Among other deficits, researchers have found that people with Alzheimer's often use indexical expressions without clear referents and convey less information that is relevant to the task they have been asked to perform than healthy subjects. Relatively little research has examined how Alzheimer's subjects use their linguistic knowledge to communicate with others in natural, open-ended interaction. The purpose of the present study was to identify what communication skills remain intact that enable an Alzheimer's subject to maintain conversational fluency despite lexical and pragmatic deficits. The study focused specifically on language skills that play a functional role in facilitating conversation. The data used in this study consisted of eight naturally occurring conversations between the subject and three interlocutors who had a close relationship with the subject. The interactions were recorded in the Alzheimer's wing of the subject's nursing home. The transcribed conversations were analyzed according to three types of functional language drawn from Nattinger and DeCarrico's (1992) work on lexical phrases: (1) conversational maintenance; (2) conversational purpose; and (3) familiar topics. The role played by lexical phrases in facilitating each of these functional categories was also examined. This study found that the subject had an intact knowledge of functional language skills that allowed her to successfully participate in conversation despite serious language deficits. Within the category of conversational maintenance, the subject retained skills necessary to share control in opening and closing conversations as well as nominating and shifting topics and requesting and offering clarification. In the category of conversational purpose, the subject used functional language to signal utterances intended to convey general politeness, gratitude and compliments as well as informing the interlocutor of her attitude in relation to the content of utterances. The study also found that lexical phrases played a central role in facilitating the subject's use of functional language.


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