Pronoun Use of Alzheimer's Disease Patients in Spontaneous Speech


  • Jaš Onič University of Ljubljana
  • Christina Manouilidou University of Ljubljana



Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects cognitive functions, including language [1]. By comparing spontaneous speech of AD patients and healthy individuals we can gain valuable insights about human language and one’s cognitive state [1]. The present study will focus mainly on pronoun use (e.g. I, you, he/she/it etc.) since previous studies showed that AD patients have a tendency to overuse them, even years before clinical diagnosis [2], as well as increased difficulties with grammaticality judgements involving pronouns [3]. Additionally, we will adopt a more explorative approach and observe if we come across any additional differences in language use between the two groups. The study would also contribute to extending research on the Slovene language.


Participants of the study include 12 mild to moderate AD patients and 15 healthy individuals. They are all female, aged 70-91. Data was collected as part of the project CogLiTreat ( The participants were given a picture description task where they were asked to describe in detail the modern version of the Cookie theft picture. The Cookie Theft picture is a widely used tool in linguistic research that prompts participants to describe a complex scene and allows insight into participants’ language abilities. The procedure was audio-recorded and transcribed.

To analyse the data, the total number of words and pronouns used by each participant will be counted. The proportion of pronouns to total words will be calculated to account for individual differences in speech length. Statistical tests, such as t-tests, will be used to compare the average proportion of pronoun use and to observe whether there is a significant difference between the two groups.

Expected results and discussion

By comparing the descriptions of AD patients and healthy individuals we mainly expect to find more inappropriate use and overuse of pronouns among the patients [2]. Additionally, we propose the following possible effects in the AD group: less complex structures, simpler syntax, less subordinates, shorter sentences [3].

The findings of the study could reveal distinct patterns of language impairment in AD, emphasising the impact of the disease on language production. This would help us advance not only in understanding the mechanisms of language but also in early detection and diagnosis of AD. Limitations of the study include the lack of male participants and a relatively small sample size, as well as language variation on an individual level.


[1] K. C. Fraser, J. A. Meltzer, in F. Rudzicz, „Linguistic features identify Alzheimer’s disease in narrative speech“, Journal of Alzheimer’s disease, vol. 49, no. 2, pp. 407–422, 2016, doi: 10.3233/JAD-150520.

[2] D. Bittner, C. Frankenberg, in J. Schröder, „Pronoun use in preclinical and early stages of Alzheimer’s dementia“, Computer speech & language, vol. 84, 2024, doi: 10.1016/j.csl.2023.101573.

[3] S. Varlokosta, K. Fragkopoulou, D. Arfani, and C. Manouilidou, “Methodologies for assessing morphosyntactic ability in people with Alzheimer’s Disease,” International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders, vol. 59, no. 1, pp. 38–57, Feb. 2023. doi:10.1111/1460-6984.12862