Behavioral and Brain Sciences

Target Article

Is there a schizophrenic language?

Steven Schwartza1

a1 Department of Psychology, University of Queensland, St. Lucia, Queensland 4067, Australia


Among the many peculiarities of schizophrenics perhaps the most obvious is their tendency to say odd things. Indeed, for most clinicians, the hallmark of schizophrenia is “thought disorder” (which is usually defined tautologically as incoherent speech). Decades of clinical observations, experimental research, and linguistic analyses have produced many hypotheses about what, precisely, is wrong with schizophrenic speech and language. These hypotheses range from assertions that schizophrenics have peculiar word association hierarchies to the notion that schizophrenics are suffering from an intermittent form of aphasia. In this article, several popular hypotheses (and the observations on which they are based) are critically assessed. Work in the area turns out to be flawed by errors in experimental method, faulty observations, tautological reasoning, and theoretical models that ignore the complexities of both speech and language. This does not mean that schizophrenics are indistinguishable from nonschizophrenics. They are clearly deviant in many situations. Their problem, however, appears to be in processing information and in selective attention, not in language itself.