Fine, Jonathan
Department of English,
Bar-Ilan University,
Ramat-Gan, Israel


Department of Psychiatry - Research Unit,
Hospital for Sick Children,
Toronto, Canada

Jonathan Fine
Department of Psychiatry -Research Unit,
Hospital for Sick Children,
555 University Avenue,
Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5G 1X8

Strand: language disorders and problems

Title: Making and conveying meaning in psychiatric syndromes

In a large number of psychiatric disorders, meaning is conveyed by patients in atypical ways. In some instances, these atypicalities characterize or define the disorder. The specific systematically defined resources of language can be used to delineate the meanings that are at risk in different disorders. These meanings can be analysed at the levels of realisations, features, systems and metafunctions. Facing the linguistic analysis, but from the perspective of psychiatry, are diagnostic criteria (e.g., interrupts others excessively, rambling flow of thoughts and speech), and psychiatric syndromes (e.g., schizophrenia, attention deficit - hyperactivity disorder). The mapping of the linguistic analyses onto the psychiatric categories is important for clarifying the psychiatric categories, for sharpening their use in clinical practice, and for studying the mechanisms underlying the disorders. The distribution of diagnostic criteria (including those based on language) into specific disorders is not fixed, since disorders are defined, eliminated and changed as the understanding of psychopathology changes. Linguistics can contribute to these redrawings of psychiatric entities based on the detailed linguistic specification of the psychiatric categories of diagnostic criteria and psychiatric disorder. Capturing the reality of the psychiatric categories of diagnostic criteria and syndromes requires consideration of at least three kinds of description: (1) a lay description of the language that characterises why the individual is considered odd in the speech community, (2) a psychiatric description that relates the speaker to groups of similar speakers and to possible pathology that may be associated with etiology, treatment and outcome, and (3) the detailed linguistic description of the language of specific affected speakers. The linguistic analysis needed in psychiatry includes: the features selected from various systems and their realisations, the combinations or resources selected from various systems, the unfolding of the text as features and realisations are selected sequentially in the on-line building of text, and the relationship of the language to the particular context of the speech event and to the typical communicating contexts in the speech community.