Alzheimer Discourse: Some Sociolinguistic Dimensions

By Via Ramanathan | Go to book overview

1
Introduction

A new definition of interviewing is proposed and developed in the following chapters that . . . centers on a view of the interview as a discourse between speakers and on the ways that the meanings of questions and responses are contextually grounded and jointly constructed by interviewer and respondent . . . the aim being to recover and strengthen the voice of the lifeworld, that is, individuals' contextual understandings of their problems in their own terms.

-- Elliot Mishler ( 1986a)

This book is about remembering and ways in which it is manifested in particular language use. Most of us go through life not pausing to consider how much of our lives depend on our ability to remember our pasts. Remembering, as Casey ( 1989) pointed out, goes on continually, often on several levels and in several ways at once. Our memories -- especially personal ones -- are tied integrally to our identities, to who we are and how we perceive and experience things, people, and the world in general. To fully comprehend the extent to which memory pervades our lives is not really possible. Questions about memory take us into the social environment as well as into people's personal lives.

To realize how critical memory and the act of remembering are, one need only consider instances in which people have lost their ability to remember parts of their pasts. Patients suffering from Alzheimer's disease (AD) are one such population: they constitute the heart of this study. Previous studies examining the language of these patients have been largely psycholinguistic in nature, and their primary focus has been on explaining the patients' deteriorating linguistic skills in terms of failing cognitive skills. Only in recent years has attention been devoted to examining some sociolinguistic dimensions of Alzheimer discourse ( Hamilton, 1994; Ramanathan, 1995a, 1995b; Ramanathan-Abbott, 1994; Sabat, 1991), and the present study is an effort at contributing to this growing scholarship.

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