Reported speech: A clinical pragmatic perspective

Research output: Chapter in book / Conference proceedingChapter in an edited book (as author)Academic researchpeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


For any speaker, the ability to report the speech of oneself and of others involves a complex interplay of cognitive, linguistic and pragmatic factors. Depending on the form of reporting used, a speaker must be able to produce utterances which contain embedded clauses (e.g. Fran said that she wanted to leave early), employ intonational and other devices which represent prosodic features of another person’s speech (e.g. Bill said, “Yes, I would LOVE to come”), and use lexical devices beyond simply verbs of saying (e.g. Sally went, “Not a chance!”). Apart from these linguistic resources, a range of complex cognitive and pragmatic skills underpins the reporting of speech. A speaker must be able to recall what another person said and how it was said. This requires verbal memory not just of the explicit content and prosodic features of a linguistic utterance, but also of any implied meanings raised by that utterance. The speaker who utters ‘Jack shouted at me, “I really appreciate your unhelpful response to this problem!”’ can only be said to have captured the sarcastic intent with which Jack delivered his utterance if that intent is conveyed in the speaker’s report of Jack’s speech. These implied or pragmatic meanings are only recoverable through intricate processes of reasoning which involve, amongst other things, theory of mind skills. With so many linguistic, pragmatic and cognitive skills playing a role in reported speech, it might reasonably be expected that clients with communication disorders, and specifically communication disorders in which there are significant cognitive deficits, may experience difficulty with this aspect of language use. Cognitive-communication disorders, which include clients with traumatic brain injury and right-hemisphere damage, are the focus of considerable clinical interest on account of their significant pragmatic and discourse impairments. Yet, remarkably, there has been almost no examination of reported speech in the discourse of these clients and in other children and adults with communication disorders. This article considers why this is the case when many other pragmatic and discourse features have been so intensively investigated. The reasons for this omission, it is argued, are threefold. Firstly, reported speech has a multidimensional structure which draws on competencies in several domains including syntax, prosody, pragmatics, theory of mind and executive functions. These domains are typically the focus of distinct academic and clinical disciplines such as linguistics and neuropsychology. However, an integration of knowledge across these disciplines is necessary for the study of reported speech. Secondly, there is a widespread assumption that reported speech has limited communicative value for clients with communication disorders and other clinical conditions. For this reason, reported speech is not judged to be a priority in the clinical assessment and intervention of these individuals. This assumption will be shown to be erroneous through an examination of how adults with aphasia, individuals with amnesia and children with autism spectrum disorders are able to use reported speech to achieve effective communication notwithstanding their cognitive and language disorders. Thirdly, assessment methods used in clinical settings and research studies have tended to overlook ‘complex’ pragmatic behaviours such as reported speech in favour of ‘simple’ pragmatic behaviours. These methods include formal pragmatic language assessments and narrative discourse procedures which are based on story retell. The chapter concludes by considering ways in which future clinical research might productively address reported speech.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPerspectives in Pragmatics, Philosophy and Psychology
Number of pages24
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2016
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NamePerspectives in Pragmatics, Philosophy and Psychology
ISSN (Print)2214-3807
ISSN (Electronic)2214-3815

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • Applied Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Language and Linguistics


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