Pragmatic comprehension deficit in Parkinson's disease

Thomas Holtgraves, Patrick McNamara

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Recognizing the specific speech act (Searle, 1969) that a speaker performs with an utterance is a fundamental feature of pragmatic competence. However, little is known about neurocognitive mediation of speech act comprehension. The present research examined the extent to which people with Parkinson's disease (PD) comprehend specific speech acts. In the first experiment, participants read conversational utterances and then performed a lexical decision task (decide whether a target string of letters was a word). Consistent with past research, nonimpaired participants performed this task more quickly when the target string was the speech act associated with the preceding utterance. In contrast, people with PD did not demonstrate this effect, suggesting that speech act activation is slowed or is not an automatic component of comprehension for people with PD. In a second study, participants were given unlimited time to indicate their recognition of the speech act performed with an utterance. PD participants were significantly poorer at this task than were control participants. We conclude that a previously undocumented language disorder exists in PD and that this disorder involves a selective deficit in speech act comprehension. Frontostriatal systems (the systems impaired in PD) likely contribute to normal speech act comprehension.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)388-397
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2010
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by a grant from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD): “Pragmatic Language Skills in Patients with Parkinson’s Disease,” 1R01DC007956–01A2. Address correspondence to Thomas Holtgraves, Department of Psychological Science, Ball State University, Muncie, IN 47306, USA (E-mail:


  • Language comprehension
  • Neurobiology of pragmatic competence
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Psycholinguistics
  • Speech act theory


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