UCL Psychology and Language Sciences


Can insights from usage-based grammar stimulate novel pathways in the rehab of non-fluent aphasia

Project TeamClaudia Bruns (née Heilemann), Dr Suzanne Beeke, Prof Rosemary Varley, Dr Vitor Zimmerer
DatesOct 2014 – Sept 2018


Agrammatism is mainly characterised by grammatically impoverished utterances. Yet there is evidence that individuals with agrammatism can access and produce a restricted set of familiar collocations (e.g., “a long time”, “don’t know”). Those common, frequently used utterances are a feature of typical spoken discourse. In analyses of elicited speech in aphasia, these islands of fluency are often dismissed as stereotypical speech. However, conversation analytic work has shown that individuals with agrammatism can use familiar collocations as a resource [1]. Thus, familiar collocations might be an economical resource to achieve more meaningful output.

My PhD project investigates the processing of familiar collocations in aphasia, applying usage-based principles. It is divided into three stages: The first stage focuses on an investigation of such utterances in everyday conversations of nine speakers with non-fluent aphasia and their regular conversation partners. Pre-collected samples of stem from two sources: (a) The Better Conversations with Aphasia (BCA) project [2; 3]; (b) an aphasia therapy study by Carragher and colleagues [4]. Conversational data are analysed with the Frequency in Language Analysis Tool [5]. We combine analysis of the form of familiar collocations (i.e., frequency-based approach) and function (interactional linguistics approach). In the second stage, we use the word monitoring paradigm [6] to find out whether individuals with aphasia and neurotypical controls show sensitivity to collocation strength at the level of three-word utterances. The aim of the third stage of this project is to pilot a novel intervention for aphasia within a case series study. We seek to train and increase the productivity of constructions that remain accessible to individuals with non-fluent aphasia with the objective of enhancing connected speech and thus communicative competence.



Familiar collocations, aphasia, usage-based approach


Key publications

Heilemann, C., Varley, R., Zimmerer, V., Carragher, M., & Beeke, S. (2016). Grammatical structures in agrammatism: a usage-based investigation of multi-word expressions. Science of Aphasia XVII, Contributed Papers. Stem-, Sprak- en Taalpathologue, 21, Suppl 1, 7-9.

Heilemann, C., Varley, R., Zimmerer, V., & Beeke, S. (2017). “A great deal” versus “a fair deal”: Does collocation strength determine processing speed in aphasia? Poster presented at the 18th Science of Aphasia Conference, Geneva.



[1] Beeke, S. (2003). “I suppose” as a resource for the construction of turns at talk in agrammatic aphasia. Clinical Linguistics & Phonetics, 17(4-5), 291–298.

[2] Beeke, S., Beckley, F., Johnson, F., Heilemann, C., Edwards, S., Maxim, J., & Best, W. (2015). Conversation focused aphasia therapy: investigating the adoption of strategies by people with agrammatism, Aphasiology, 29(3), 355-377, DOI: 10.1080/02687038.2014.881459

[3] Best, W., Maxim, J., Heilemann, C., Beckley, F., Johnson, F., Edwards, S., Howard, D., & Beeke, S. (2016). Conversation Therapy with People with Aphasia and Conversation Partners using Video Feedback: A Group and Case Series Investigation of Changes in Interaction. Front. Hum. Neurosci. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2016.00562

[4] Carragher, M., Sage, K., & Conroy, P. (2015). Outcomes of treatment targeting syntax production in people with Broca’s-type aphasia: evidence from psycholinguistic assessment tasks and everyday conversation. International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders, 50(3), 322-336.

[5] Zimmerer, V. C., & Wibrow, M. (2015). Frequency in Language Analysis Tool.

[6] Tyler, L. K., Moss, H. E., Patterson, K., & Hodges, J. (1997). The gradual deterioration of syntax and semantics in a patient with progressive aphasia. Brain and Language, 56(3), 426–76. http://doi.org/10.1006/brln.1997.1857