Disfluency in Spontaneous Speech (DiSS'01)

August 29-31, 2001
Edinburgh, Scotland, UK

Pauses in Speech by French Speakers with Down Syndrome

Laura Abou-Haidar

Laboratoire "Langage & Handicap", Tours, France

A better understanding of the control mechanisms of speech in verbal interaction is very important for the evaluation of the pragmatic competence of a mentally deficient speaker. This study focuses on pauses in the oral production of a Speaker with Down syndrome involved in a conversation : it brings to light the temporal compensation mechanisms which allow the speaker to go beyond the distortions of the segmental level. It confirms the important role of prosody in the success of a conversation, particularly with a speaker who has a handicap which disrupts language structure. Down Syndrome is a condition characterised by an overall delay in cognitive, social, linguistic and motor development. At the oral production level, it leads to deficits in segmental and supra-segmental speech patterning. The goal of this study is to bring elements of response to the following question : is the pragmatic function of language preserved in spite of significant distortions of the motor functions of the phonatory organs ? The description of the management of pauses by a speaker with Down syndrome involved in a conversation makes it possible to clarify this subject, while taking into account the various functions which are specific to them beyond the respiratory function : their role in encoding, in the delimitation of syntactic boundaries, and in the regulation of speaking turns, among others.

This study allowed us to define criteria which make it possible to characterise the oral production of a Speaker with Down syndrome. These elements relate to the variation of the frequency and the length of pauses. The results obtained are the following:

  1. a high frequency of occurrence of pauses in the production of the trisomic speaker
  2. a frequency of occurrence of "mixed pauses", of which the majority have very long lengths, this element revealing a lack of ease and disfluency on the production level;
  3. a significant recourse to false-starts, hesitation, repetition and lengthening, to mark sound pauses;
  4. a considerable number of very long pauses pauses;
  5. a relatively high number of pauses located at the boundaries of or within syntagms, with rather long lengths of intra-syntagmatic uses;

We furthermore noted a rarity of long phonic sequences in the speaker with Down syndrome, these sequences seldom exceeding 2000 ms.

In spite of these results, it is important to note that we have defined parameters which show that the speaker with Down syndrome integrated rules relating to the management of pauses in verbal interaction.


Full Paper

Bibliographic reference.  Abou-Haidar, Laura (2001): "Pauses in speech by French speakers with Down Syndrome", In DISS'01, 33-36.