Decline and fall: A biological, developmental, and psycholinguistic account of deliberative language processes and ageing

Trevor A. Harley, Lesley J. Jessiman, Siobhan B.G. MacAndrew

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Background: This paper reviews the role of deliberative processes in language: those language processes that require central resources, in contrast to the automatic processes of lexicalisation, word retrieval, and parsing. Aims: We describe types of deliberative processing, and show how these processes underpin high-level processes that feature strongly in language. We focus on metalinguistic processing, strategic processing, inhibition, and planning. We relate them to frontal-lobe function and the development of the fronto-striate loop. We then focus on the role of deliberative processes in normal and pathological development and ageing, and show how these processes are particularly susceptible to deterioration with age. In particular, many of the commonly observed language impairments encountered in ageing result from a decline in deliberative processing skills rather than in automatic language processes. Main Contribution: We argue that central processing plays a larger and more important role in language processing and acquisition than is often credited. Conclusions: Deliberative language processes permeate language use across the lifespan. They are particularly prone to age-related loss. We conclude by discussing implications for therapy. Keywords: Control of language; Central executive; Fronto-striate loop; Language across the lifespan; Deliberative language; Metalinguistic processing; Ageing; Parkinson's disease; Alzheimer's disease; Speech therapy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)123-153
Number of pages31
Issue number2
Publication statusPrint publication - 14 Jan 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Ageing
  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Central executive
  • Control of language
  • Deliberative language
  • Fronto-striate loop
  • Language across the lifespan
  • Metalinguistic processing
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Speech therapy


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