THE LOSS OF LANGUAGE
SKILL IN LANGUAGE develops so quickly and operates so smoothly that we take our linguistic capacities largely for granted. Most three- year-olds can speak simple grammatical sentences and execute simple commands. Nearly every ten-year-old in our society can read and write at the primer level, and most adults can read a novel in an afternoon or write several letters in an evening.
Our linguistic potentials are even more impressive. Placed in a foreign culture, particularly as children, we readily learn the basic phrases of another language; and all of us, bilingual or not, are capable of mastering various language-related codes--the number system (Arabic or Roman), musical notation, Morse code, or the familiar trademarks for commercial products.
The loss of various language abilities in the otherwise normal adult is tragic, and the consequences are as devastating as those of blindness, deafness, or paralysis (which often accompanies it). Deprived of the power to communicate through language and languagelike channels, the individual is cut off from the world of meaning. Though loss of language is relatively rare among young persons, who are less susceptible to many of the causes of brain damage, it becomes increasingly common with age. About one quarter of a million individuals suffer linguistic impairment each year. The extent and duration of language disability vary greatly, but a significant proportion of the afflicted individuals are left with a permanent impairment. Those who suffer language loss as a consequence of damage to their brains are victims of the strange condition called aphasia.
Aphasic individuals are not always immediately recognizable. One