Man with Broca’s Aphasia

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Most neuroscientists would agree that the foundations of modern neuropsychology and cognitive neuroscience were laid by the French surgeon, anatomist and anthropologist, Paul Broca, in the 1860s.

Broca was consulted about a 51-year-old patient by the name of Leborgne with multiple neurological problems, who had been without any productive speech for many years. Every time Leborgne attempted to utter a phrase or respond to a question, he could only produce a single repetitive syllable, “tan”. He could vary the intonation of the sound but was not able to produce any recognizable words or phrases. Broca saw Leborgne’s lack of speech as a test case for the question of language localization in the frontal lobes, since the patient clearly had no productive language. Leborgne died of his ailments several days later and, at autopsy, a lesion was found on the surface of the left frontal lobe as Broca had suspected.

A few months later, Broca encountered a second patient, Lelong, who also exhibited reduced productive speech as the result of a stroke 1 year before. This 84-year-old patient could say only five words, “oui” (“yes”), “non” (“no”), “tois” (a mispronunciation of “trois” (“three”)) which he used to represent any number), “toujours” (“always”) and “Lelo” (a mispronunciation of his own name). At autopsy, Lelong was also found to have a lesion in approximately the same region of the lateral frontal lobe as the first case, and Broca reported it to the Anatomical Society as an important case, confirming the localization of speech to this area.


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