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Disturbing the rhythm of thought: Speech pausing patterns in schizophrenia, with and without formal thought disorder

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Derya Cokal, Professor Douglas Turkington, Emeritus Professor Nicol Ferrier, Dr Stuart Watson



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


© 2019 Çokal et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.Everyday speech is produced with an intricate timing pattern and rhythm. Speech units follow each other with short interleaving pauses, which can be either bridged by fillers (erm, ah) or empty. Through their syntactic positions, pauses connect to the thoughts expressed. We investigated whether disturbances of thought in schizophrenia are manifest in patterns at this level of linguistic organization, whether these are seen in first degree relatives (FDR) and how specific they are to formal thought disorder (FTD). Spontaneous speech from 15 participants without FTD (SZ-FTD), 15 with FTD (SZ+FTD), 15 FDRs and 15 neurotypical controls (NC) was obtained from a comic strip retelling task and rated for pauses subclassi-fied by syntactic position and duration. SZ-FTD produced significantly more unfilled pauses than NC in utterance-initial positions and before embedded clauses. Unfilled pauses occurring within clausal units did not distinguish any groups. SZ-FTD also differed from SZ+FTD in producing significantly more pauses before embedded clauses. SZ+FTD differed from NC and FDR only in producing longer utterance-initial pauses. FDRs produced significantly fewer fillers than NC. Results reveal that the temporal organization of speech is an important window on disturbances of the thought process and how these relate to language.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Cokal D, Zimmerer V, Turkington D, Ferrier N, Varley R, Watson S, Hinzen W

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: PLoS ONE

Year: 2019

Volume: 14

Issue: 5

Online publication date: 31/05/2019

Acceptance date: 11/05/2019

Date deposited: 21/06/2019

ISSN (electronic): 1932-6203

Publisher: Public Library of Science


DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0217404


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Funder referenceFunder name
AH/L004070/1Arts & Humanities Research Board-AHRB (now AHRC)
Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Mental Health Foundation Trust