Aphasia: Bringing in the Container Schema


  • Daniela Diesner University of Vienna


A cerebrovascular accident may leave individuals bereft of speech. A person affected by aphasia may require years to regain the ability to effectively communicate. Differentiating members of a closed word class such as spatial prepositions may still pose a challenge even after years of therapy.

For the recovery of linguistic competence, aphasia treatment has mainly focused on speech in isolation. Acknowledgement of the body’s fundamental role in sense- making appears to have been neglected.

Research Question and Hypotheses

The aim of this case study is to assess whether image schema theory in combination with bodily motion that corresponds to what is being expressed may constitute an efficacious approach in impairment-based aphasia therapy.

Since spatial cognition is reflected in language use and meaning appears to be intricately linked to modal experience that can be evoked [1], re-establishing a correlation between sound (phonology) and meaning (semantics) via enacting what is being expressed is expected to facilitate retrieval, i.e. access to the mental lexicon.


A 59-year-old English native speaker with chronic Broca’s aphasia (more than 20 years) who despite long-term therapy [2] still faces challenges regarding prepositions underwent a four-week training programme (16 hours in total) that focused on the container schema. Frequent concrete senses of verb-preposition constructions (VPCs) containing in [3], which typically denote actions, were delineated from uses of out and on. This consisted in the subject concurrently carrying out corresponding actions while speaking, e.g., in terms of changes in the arrangement of household props. A familiar children’s song with corresponding actions, a modified game and mini scenarios were utilised to tap into memories. Instances of interference of other prepositions were instantly addressed correspondingly. Pretraining, mid-training (spot check) and post-training performance is evaluated via aphasia assessment tools.


Preliminary findings corroborate image schema theory and notions of enactivism as well as their role in enhancing retrieval. Despite this being beyond the scope of this study, findings may encourage research in terms of a more embodied treatment of aphasia that extends to embrace rehabilitation of affected limbs in enacting, which may aid in side-stepping or unlearning learned nonuse. Finally, this may also offer new approaches to L2 language teaching concerning prepositions and VPCs.


[1] J. Mandler and C. Pagán Cánovas, “On defining image schemas,” Language and Cognition, vol. 6, no. 4, pp. 510–532, 2014, doi: 10.1017/langcog.2014.14.

[2] J. Stark, “Long-term analysis of chronic Broca’s aphasia: an illustrative single case,” Semin Speech Lang, vol. 31, no. 1, pp. 5–20, 2010, doi: 10.1055/s-0029–1244949.

[3] D. Diesner, “The ins and outs of the container schema in English phrasal verbs: a cognitive semantic account”. MA thesis, University of Vienna, 2020.