Schizophrenic individuals show impairments in language affecting what is referred to as the pragmatic component of language, typically the processing of non-literal language (e.g., irony, metaphor, indirect request). Such non-literal utterances require the ability to process the speakers utterance beyond its literal meaning in order to allow one to grasp the speakers intention by reference to the contextual information. This paper gives a selective literature review showing that different cognitive processes-specific to language or not-may underlie the processing of pragmatic aspects of language, and particularly of non-literal language in schizophrenia. Indeed, the fact that many other disorders (e.g., right hemisphere lesion, traumatic brain injury, autism) are characterized by pragmatic impairments may reflect a heterogeneous range of underlying functional deficits that have to be determined. Evidence is reviewed suggesting that cooccurrence of a deficit in non-literal language understanding and a deficit in theory of mind may be accounted for by an impairment in context processing associated with a lack of flexibility.
Keywords: Social cognition, non-literal language, theory of mind, context, executive function, schizophrenia
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