Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Changing Language In Harold Wilson's Commons Speeches Indicates Cognitive Deterioration During His Final Term Of Office, New Research Suggests

Date:
November 10, 2008
Source:
University of Southampton
Summary:
The motives behind Harold Wilson's resignation as British Prime Minister in April 1976 have long been a source of controversy. Now, a linguistic analysis of his performance at the dispatch box suggests that the earliest stages of Alzheimer's disease may well have contributed to his decision, according to a new study in the Journal of Neurolinguistics.

The motives behind Harold Wilson's resignation as British Prime Minister in April 1976 have long been a source of controversy. Now, a linguistic analysis of his performance at the dispatch box suggests that the earliest stages of Alzheimer's disease may well have contributed to his decision, according to a study just published online in the Journal of Neurolinguistics.

Related Articles


Dr Peter Garrard of the University of Southampton - who previously demonstrated the presence of Alzheimer-like linguistic changes in the later writings of Dame Iris Murdoch - analysed vocabulary trends in transcripts of Prime Minister's question time during Wilson's first, second and final terms in office.

Dr Garrard, who is Reader in Neurology at the University of Southampton's School of Medicine, explains: "Language is known to be vulnerable to the earliest stages of Alzheimer's disease, and the findings of the earlier Iris Murdoch project confirmed that linguistic changes can appear even before the symptoms are recognised by either the patient or their closest associates.

"If such changes are apparent during the effortful and relatively controlled process of creative writing, then the cognitive demands of spontaneous speech production make it even more likely for them to be detectable in spoken output."

Very few records of spontaneous spoken language are preserved for retrospective analysis, but Hansard was one obvious example of such a source. Although many of the contributions to Parliamentary debate are composed in advance and read out rather than delivered extempore, the verbal cut and thrust that follows a Prime Minister's response to a tabled question does not follow a written script.

Transcripts were copied from bound volumes of Hansard and converted to digital format using optical character recognition software. Markers were inserted into the digital text to indicate both the date and the speaker of each contribution, revealing the number of times each word was used by a speaker during the three periods studied. This unique dataset was used to make statistical comparisons between Wilson's language and that of his parliamentary colleagues.

The analysis was based on techniques developed by literary scholars for quantifying the stylistic similarities and differences between authors, genres, and literary eras. The findings confirmed that the content of Wilson's speeches was identifiably different from those of other members of the House in all three periods (as would be expected), but that this difference was smaller during the months leading up to his resignation.

"The results of this preliminary analysis show that significant changes are detectable in archived language samples, using simple measures that can be made rapidly and automatically using digitised texts," continues Dr Garrard.

"Further work is needed to pinpoint the onset of change with more precision, and to demonstrate that the change is genuinely related to the linguistic markers of early dementia.

"Demonstration of a reliable marker, or 'signature', of incipient dementia in spontaneously produced language will be a powerful tool for understanding the evolution of Alzheimer's disease and the human brain's capacity to compensate for its effects."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Southampton. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of Southampton. "Changing Language In Harold Wilson's Commons Speeches Indicates Cognitive Deterioration During His Final Term Of Office, New Research Suggests." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 November 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/11/081110091553.htm>.
University of Southampton. (2008, November 10). Changing Language In Harold Wilson's Commons Speeches Indicates Cognitive Deterioration During His Final Term Of Office, New Research Suggests. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 26, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/11/081110091553.htm
University of Southampton. "Changing Language In Harold Wilson's Commons Speeches Indicates Cognitive Deterioration During His Final Term Of Office, New Research Suggests." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/11/081110091553.htm (accessed November 26, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Mind & Brain News

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Are Female Bosses More Likely To Be Depressed?

Are Female Bosses More Likely To Be Depressed?

Newsy (Nov. 24, 2014) A new study links greater authority with increased depressive symptoms among women in the workplace. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Winter Can Cause Depression — Here's How To Combat It

Winter Can Cause Depression — Here's How To Combat It

Newsy (Nov. 23, 2014) Millions of American suffer from seasonal depression every year. It can lead to adverse health effects, but there are ways to ease symptoms. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Could Your Genes Be The Reason You're Single?

Could Your Genes Be The Reason You're Single?

Newsy (Nov. 21, 2014) Researchers in Beijing discovered a gene called 5-HTA1, and carriers are reportedly 20 percent more likely to be single. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Milestone Birthdays Can Bring Existential Crisis, Study Says

Milestone Birthdays Can Bring Existential Crisis, Study Says

Newsy (Nov. 21, 2014) Researchers find that as people approach new decades in their lives they make bigger life decisions. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins