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Paraphasias are a group of language disorders, types of aphasia in which people lose the ability to speak correctly, substitutes one word for another, and changing words and sentences in an inappropriate way. It often develops after a stroke or brain injury. The patient's speech is fluent but is error-prone, e.g. 'treen' instead of 'train'.

They are characterized by the production of unintended syllables, words, or phrases during the effort to speak. Paraphasia is most common in patients with fluent forms of aphasia, and comes in three forms: phonological or literal, neologistic, and verbal. Paraphasias can affect metrical information, segmental information, number of syllables, or both. Some paraphasias preserve the meter without segmentation, and some do the opposite. However, most paraphasias affect both partially.[1]

The term was apparently introduced in 1877 by the German-English physician Julius Althaus in his book on Diseases of the Nervous System, in a sentence reading, "In some cases there is a perfect chorea or delirium of words, which may be called paraphasia".[2]


Paraphasia can be sub-divided into 3 categories:

  • Literal/phonological paraphasia - where more than half of the spoken word is said correctly. An example could be saying pun instead of spun.
  • Neologistic paraphasias - where a spoken word that is said correctly less than half the time. Occasionally the word is not said correctly at all, for example Balenti for Banana. This sometimes occurs in the speech of patients with schizophrenia.
  • Verbal paraphasias- occcurs where another word is substituted for the target word. A common example is saying dog instead of cat.

While low-frequency paraphasic errors can occur in normal speech, paraphasias (particularly phonological paraphasias) are considerably more common in Wernicke's aphasia and in Transcortical sensory aphasia.

  • Phonemic paraphasia, also literal paraphasia - Mispronunciation, syllables out of sequence. e.g. "I slipped on the lice (ice) and broke my arm."
  • Verbal paraphasia - Substitution of words
  • Semantic paraphasia - The substituted word is related to the intended word. e.g. "I spent the whole day working on the television, I mean, computer."
  • Remote paraphasia - The substituted word is, at most, distantly related to the intended word. e.g. "You forgot your musketeer, I mean, umbrella."
  • Neologistic paraphasia - More severe mispronunciation, in which less than half the word is said correctly.

Perseverative paraphasia - previous response persists, interferes with retrieval of new responses. For an example please see the experimental case study D.L.A published by Dennis in 1976[3]


Paraphasia is associated with fluent aphasias, characterized by “fluent spontaneous speech, long grammatically shaped sentences and preserved prosody abilities.”[4] Examples of these fluent aphasias include receptive or Wernicke’s aphasia, anomic aphasia, conduction aphasia, and transcortical sensory aphasia, among others. All of these lead to a difference in processing efficiency, which is often caused by damage to a cortical region in the brain (in receptive aphasia, for example, the lesion is in or near Wernicke’s area); lesion location is the most important determining factor for all aphasic disorders, including paraphasia - the location of the lesion can be used to hypothesize the type of aphasic symptoms the patient will display.[5] This lesion can be caused by a variety of different methods: malfunctioning blood vessels (caused, for example, by a stroke) in the brain are the cause of 80% of aphasias in adults, as compared to head injuries, dementia and degenerative diseases, poisoning, metabolic disorders, infectious diseases, and demyelinating diseases.[4] Lesions involving the posterior superior temporal lobe are often associated with fluent aphasias.[6]

Damage to the Brain's Language Centers

Two areas of the brain, Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area, are responsible for various disruptions in speech when damaged. Each is defined by their distinct characteristics. Broca’s aphasia is characterized by non-fluent or telegraphic-type speech - where articles, conjunctions, prepositions, auxiliary verbs, pronouns and morphological inflections (plurals, past tense) are omitted.[7] The word substitutions are infrequent and distortion of consonants and simplification of consonant clusters is frequent. Content words such as nouns, verbs and adjectives may be preserved. Subjects of this aphasia are aware of their errors in speech. Damage to the Broca’s area does not affect comprehension of speech.[8] Wernicke’s aphasia is characterized by fluent language with made up or unnecessary words with little or no meaning to speech. Those who suffer from this type of aphasia have difficulty understanding others speech and are unaware of their own mistakes. When corrected they will repeat their verbal paraphasias and have trouble finding the correct word. Wernicke’s aphasia is found in the dominant hemisphere of the posterior gyrus of the first temporal convolution of the brain, whereas Broca’s aphasia is found anterior to the Wernicke’s area.[9]


Phonological paraphasia[]

Phonological paraphasia, also referred to as phonemic paraphasia or literal paraphasia, refers to the substitution of a word with a nonword that preserves at least half of the segments and/or number of syllables of the intended word. This can lead to a variety of errors, including formal ones, in which one word is replaced with another phonologically related to the intended word; phonemic ones, in which one word is replaced with a nonword phonologically related to the intended word; and approximations, an attempt to find the word without producing either a word or nonword.[1][10] These types of errors are associated with receptive aphasia, among others.[4] Phonemic paraphasias are often caused by lesions to the external capsule, extending to the posterior part of the temporal lobe or internal capsule.[5] These phonological paraphasias also occur in other languages as well. For example, case studies have been performed with German speakers, which demonstrated that 30.8% of paraphasias occurred at the beginning of the word in patients with Wernicke's aphasia and 22.6% for patients with Broca's aphasia. In English speakers this tendency to create errors at the beginning of the word remained.[10]

  • Types of phonemic paraphasias[11][12]
    • Anticipatory errors occur when a syllable from later in the word replaces a syllable from earlier in the word - “papple” for apple or “lelephone” for telephone.
    • Perseverative errors occur when a syllable from earlier in the word replaces a syllable from later in the word - for example, “gingerjed” for gingerbread.
    • Paradigmatic errors based on similarity in how the sounds are formed can also occur - “marmer” for barber, i.e.
    • Addition errors, in which a segment is added that bears no relation to the intended word, are much rarer than anticipatory, perseverative, or paradigmatic errors, though they do occur. Most often what can be mistaken for an addition error is an anticipatory error from the words surrounding the intended one. However, an example of a possible addition error could be “selezant” for elephant.
    • Wild paraphasias are the most infrequent of the phonemic paraphasias, and occur when an unrelated error occurs - “supei” for toothbrush.
    • Substitution errors involve a clear phonological substitution, such as “ragon” for wagon.
    • Epithetical errors are the insertion of a segment into the target, as in the case of “plants” for pants.
    • Finally, metathetical errors are the full exchange of segments like “deks” for desk.

Neologistic paraphasia[]

Neologistic paraphasias, a substitution with a non-English or gibberish word, follow pauses indicating word-finding difficulty.[13] They can affect any part of speech, and the previously mentioned pause can be used to indicate the relative severity of the neologism; less severe neologistic paraphasias can be recognized as a distortion of a real word, and more severe ones cannot. The hypothesized source for these neologisms is “a device which quasirandomly combines English phonemes in a phonotactically regular way.”[14] A neologistic paraphasia can be thought of as a neologism resulting from aphasia, rather than any other of the sources with which they are associated. Neologistic paraphasia is often associated with receptive aphasia and jargon aphasia.[4][14]

  • Types of Neologistic paraphasias
    • There are also various types of neologistic paraphasias. They can be phonologically related to a prior word, a following word, the intended word, or another neologism. The neologistic paraphasia shares phonemes or the position of phonemes with the related word. This most often occurs when the word and neologistic paraphasia are in the same clause.[14] Neologistic paraphasias have a less stringent relationship with the target word than phonological paraphasias - where a phonological paraphasia has more than half of the target word’s phonemes, a neologistic paraphasia has less than half.[12]

Verbal paraphasia[]

Verbal paraphasias are confusions of words or the replacement of one word by another real word; another definition is that of a contextually inappropriate English word or an English word of a syntactically incorrect class - the wrong part of speech, for example.[14] Verbal paraphasias do not often preserve length, although the gender of the target word was preserved in more than half of the errors in one case study. It is hypothesized that verbal paraphasias are not the result of a random process but from a precise deficit in a single area.[15] Verbal paraphasias are the only type of paraphasias that can also be linked to nonfluent aphasias, and they are mainly caused by lesions to the posterior temporal region of the brain, the head of the caudate nucleus, or both.[16]

  • Examples
    • These errors can be semantic, in which the meaning of the word is related to that of the intended word (car for van, for example).[16] Semantic paraphasias can be further subdivided into six different types.[12]
      • Coordinate semantic paraphasias replace the target word with one that is from the same category, such as tiger for lion.
      • Associate semantic paraphasias replace the target word with one that is related to the target but is not of the same category, like replacing foot with shoe.
      • Superordinate semantic paraphasias replace a specific target word with a more generalized group to which the target word involves, such as replacing pear with fruit.
      • Subordinate semantic paraphasias are the opposite of superordinate semantic paraphasias and replace the target word with one that is more specific - rose, for flower, for example.
      • Part-whole semantic paraphasias replace the “whole” with the “part” as in finger for hand; or, conversely, the part with the whole, in the case of leg for foot.
      • Finally, a visual semantic paraphasia replaces the target word with a word that shares visual features with the target, such as knife for nail.
    • Phonological errors also occur; these errors replace the target word with one that sounds similar (garbage for garage).[1]
    • Random errors, in which the word has no relation to the target, also occur.

Perseverative paraphasia[]

Perseverative paraphasia is a type of paraphasia in which the previous response persists and interferes with retrieval of new responses. (See the experimental case study D.L.A published by Dennis in 1976.) It is associated with lesions in the left caudate nucleus.[5]


Many speech impairments, including paraphasias may spontaneously disappear; this occurs most often with stroke patients and within three months. Lesions associated with ischemic strokes have a shorter spontaneous recovery time, within the first two weeks, and lesions associated with hemorrhagic strokes, on the other hand have a longer period for spontaneous recovery, four to eight weeks. Whether spontaneous recovery occurs or not, treatment must begin immediately after the stroke. A traditional approach requires treatment beginning at the level of breakdown - in the case of paraphasia, at the level of the phoneme. There are commercially available workbooks that provide various activities such as letter, word-picture, or word-word matching, and sentence completion, among other things. The difficulty of these activities varies with the level of treatment. However, these treatments have not been proven to be clinically productive.[4] Functional magnetic resonance imaging is the most widely used technique to study treatment-induced recovery, looking at activation of particular areas of the brain. There are many different ways to process fMRI scans, beginning with the pre-scanning process. Data must be normalized. There is also no consensus on whether or not single subject scans are more helpful than group scans to determine a general pattern of treatment.[17] However, fMRI scans have a few disadvantages.

A 1988 study by Mary Boyle proposed a method focused on oral reading to treat phonemic paraphasias was partially successful, resulting in fewer phonemic paraphasias but a slower rate of speech. Treatments lasted for 50 minutes and occurred once a week. During these treatment sessions, the patient was instructed to look at twenty different phrases -each of these phrases consisted of one to three syllables - then read the phrase. If the patient failed to read the phrase, the process was repeated. If the patient failed to read the phrase again, the process was abandoned. To progress from a set of one syllable phrases to two syllable phrases and two syllable phrases to three syllable phrases, an 80% success rate was necessary. This treatment was partially successful. Although fewer phonemic paraphasias were produced due to this treatment, speaking efficiency was not improved by this study. This is partially because the focus of the treatment was on sound production rather than semantic content. Improvements lasted for six weeks before the patient regressed.[18]

See also[]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Biran M, Friedmann N. 2005. From phonological paraphasias to the structure of the phonological output lexicon. Language and Cognitive Processes 20:589-616
  2. Julius Althaus (1877). Diseases of the nervous system: their prevalence and pathology, Smith, Elder.
  3. Dennis, M. (1976). Dissociated naming and location of body parts after left anterior temporal lobe resection: An experimental case study. Brain Language 3, 147-163.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 Sinanovic O, Mrkonjic Z, Zukic S, Vidovic M, Imamovic K. 2011. Post-stroke language disorders. Acta clinica Croatica 50:79-94
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Kreisler A, Godefroy O, Delmaire C, Debachy B, Leclercq M, et al. 2000. The anatomy of aphasia revisited. Neurology 54:1117-23
  6. Rohrer JD, Knight WD, Warren JE, Fox NC, Rossor MN, Warren JD. 2008. Word-finding difficulty: a clinical analysis of the progressive aphasias. Brain 131:8-38
  7. Gallaher, Alan J. (Jun 24, 1981). Syntactic versus semantic performances of agrammatic Broca's aphasics on tests of constituent-element-ordering.. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research: 217–218.
  8. Kellogg, Margaret Kimberly (2012). Conceptual mechanisms underlying noun and verb categorization: Evidence from paraphasia. Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society 20 (1).
  9. Huber, Mary (1944). A Phonetic Approach to the Problem of Perception in a Case of Wernicke's Aphasia. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research: 227–238.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Berg T. 2006. A structural account of phonological paraphasias. Brain and Language 96:331-56
  11. Buckingham HW. 1986. The scan-copier mechanism and the positional level of language production: Evidence from phonemic paraphasia. Cognitive Science 10:195-217
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Corina DP, Loudermilk BC, Detwiler L, Martin RF, Brinkley JF, Ojemann G. 2010. Analysis of naming errors during cortical stimulation mapping: Implications for models of language representation. Brain and Language 115:101-12
  13. Caplan D, Kellar L, Locke S. 1972. Inflection of neologisms in aphasia. Brain 95:169-72
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 Butterworth B. 1979. Hesitation and the production of verbal paraphasias and neologisms in jargon aphasia. Brain and Language 8:133-61
  15. Garzon M, Semenza M, Meneghello F, Bencini G, Semenza C. 2011. Target-Unrelated Verbal Paraphasias: A Case Study. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 23:142-3
  16. 16.0 16.1 Lewis FC, Soares L. 2000. Relationship between Semantic Paraphasias and Related Nonverbal Factors. Perceptual and Motor Skills 91:366-72
  17. Meinzer M, Beeson PM, Cappa S, Crinion J, Kiran S, et al. 2012. Neuroimaging in aphasia treatment research: Consensus and practical guidelines for data analysis. NeuroImage
  18. Boyle M. 1988. Reducing Phonemic Paraphasias in the Connected Speech of a Conduction Aphasic Subject. In Clinical Aphasiology Conference, pp. 379-93. Cape Cod, MA


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