The use of Swiss German and High German in aphasia testing in Switzerland

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In German-speaking Switzerland, depending on the context a standard variety and a dialect are used by the same speakers. This is often referred to as diaglossia (Ferguson, 1959; Werlen 1998). Swiss German (i.e., dialect) is prestigious and preferred for all oral communication. However, some more formal situations (e.g., school) require High German (i.e., standard language). This coexistence of two clearly distinguished varieties sometimes leads to code-switching, the change from one variety or language to another within a communicative situation (Bösshenz, 2011). In aphasia assessment, there is a discrepancy between the use of tests that were developed in Germany and are therefore based on (German) High German, such as the most widely used AAT (Aachen Aphasia Test, Huber et al. 1983), and the reported use of dialect by Speech Language Pathologists (SLP), when talking with their patients (Widmer Beierlein & Vorwerg, 2015). This raises the question how this dilemma between the language required by the test and the everyday language, is dealt with in diagnostic situations. What languages do individuals with aphasia and SLPs use during a diagnostic interview? Does code-switching occur, and if so, when? To address these questions, we video recorded two diagnostic situations, each of which with one SLP and one individual with aphasia. Therapists were free in the choice of the test. Both of them used the AAT. For the individuals with aphasia, the criterion for inclusion was that they had been Swiss dialect speakers before the beginning of the language problem. The video material (125 min.) was transcribed and analyzed with respect to the overall structure and patterns. Two subtests (Word and SentenceRepetition, Picture Naming) were analyzed in detail for each SLP-patient dyad. Both subtests have the same conversational structure: introductory talk, instruction, subtest, interim talk, conclusion. Each part of the structure was assigned a main variety. Each change by one speaker scored as code-switching. Results show that both the therapists and the individuals with aphasia use both Swiss and High German during the diagnosis. In the subtest Word and Sentence Repetition, all participants show exactly the same pattern: Participants switch to High German for the test items, but use Swiss German for all the other conversation occurring during the diagnostic situation, including instructions and help. In the subtest Picture Naming, SLPs do not use High German at all, whereas one individual with aphasia again uses High German for the test items only, and the other one uses both Swiss and High German to name the pictures. These are the first data one the use of varieties in assessment situations. Results show the importance of the dialect, the alternate use of both varieties, and factors of code-switching. An open question is how generalizable the patterns are, what motivates SLPs’ code-switches, and whether dialectal answers change the outcome of the assessment. These questions will be addressed by a larger study with 25 dyads, together with interviews with SLPs and an analysis of test protocols.
Fachgebiet (DDC)
Annual Meeting Academy of Aphasia
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Während FHNW Zugehörigkeit erstellt
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WIDMER BEIERLEIN, Sandra und Constanze VORWERG, 2016. The use of Swiss German and High German in aphasia testing in Switzerland. Annual Meeting Academy of Aphasia. Llandudno. Oktober 2016. Verfügbar unter: