Cultural Language Variations: An Examination of Appalachian Discourse

Principal Investigator:  Dr. Karen L. McComas

Co-Investigator:  Katherine L. Ward


Examinations of discourse are essential for documenting the linguistic variations of a particular culture. In turn, linguistic variations across cultures may suggest similar variations in global discourse measures.  It is imperative for clinicians to first understand the framework and cultural norms of a particular dialect or language to properly identify deficits in disordered language. By first looking closely at specific aspects of discourse such as story grammar within a normative or non-brain injured population, clinicians can improve treatment protocols for working with aphasic or brain-injured clients.  With Appalachia being the heart of the “stroke belt,” research in intervention strategies for discourse deficits is especially important for the future of quality rehabilitation and subsequent impact on the lives of Appalachian citizens in this region.

There are two aims of this study.  The first is to create a control group of healthy native Appalachian speakers with no known cognitive, linguistic, or other communication deficits.  These controls can later be used to compare to individuals who evidence deficits in communication.  The second aim of the study is to contribute our discourse samples to a shared web-based database (AphasiaBank).  The AphasiaBank web-based database is overseen by Brian MacWhinney (Carnegie Mellon University), is password-protected, and is accessible only to members of the AphasiaBank Consortium.  Other members of the Consortium may access recordings to review.  Recordings are identified by code numbers and not names. 

“The overarching goal of this work [the AphasiaBank] is the construction of methods for improving patient-oriented treatments in aphasia.  To reach this goal we must solidify the empirical database supporting our understanding of communication in aphasia” (AphasiaBank Proposal, Whinney & James, 2007).  The AphasiaBank database was established in 2005 and is sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) TalkBank Project.