Beyond words

linguistic experience in melancholia, mania, and schizophrenia

Louis Sass, Elizabeth Pienkos

pp. 475-495

In this paper, we use a phenomenological approach to compare the unusual ways in which language can be experienced by individuals with schizophrenia or severe mood disorders, specifically mania and melancholia (psychotic depression). Our discussion follows a tripartite/dialectical format: first we describe traditionally observed distinctions (i.e., decrease or increase in amount or rate of speech in the affective conditions, versus alterations of coherence, clarity, or interpersonal anchoring in schizophrenia); then we consider some apparent similarities in the experience of language in these conditions (e.g., striking disorganization of manic as well as schizophrenic speech, interpersonal alienation in both schizophrenia and severe depression). Finally, we explore more subtle, qualitative differences. These involve: 1, interpersonal orientation (less concern with the needs of the listener in schizophrenia), 2, forms of attention and context-relevance (e.g., manic distractibility versus schizophrenic loss of orientation), 3, underlying mutations of experience (e.g., sadness/emptiness in melancholia versus disturbances of basic selfhood in schizophrenia), and 4, meta-attitudes toward language (i.e., greater alienation from language-as-such in schizophrenia). Such distinctions appear to reflect significant differences in underlying forms of subjectivity; they are broadly consistent with work in phenomenological psychopathology on other aspects of experience, including body, self, and social world. An understanding of such distinctions may assist with difficult cases of differential diagnosis, while also contributing to a better understanding of suffering persons and of psychological factors underlying their disorders.

Publication details

DOI: 10.1007/s11097-013-9340-0

Full citation:

Sass, L. , Pienkos, E. (2015). Beyond words: linguistic experience in melancholia, mania, and schizophrenia. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 14 (3), pp. 475-495.

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