Aphemia is an old fashioned term that refers to an
inability to speak. The term was originally used in 1961
by Paul Broca (see reference below), a French medical
doctor, who is most famous for research showing that
damage in an area of the left frontal lobe of the brain
can cause impaired expressive language. In a broad
sense, this type of speech impairment became known
as Broca’s aphasia and the region of the brain causing
it became known as Broca’s area. However, Broca
originally used the term aphemia in a narrower sense
than aphasia, although the word aphasia later replaced
the word aphemia.
Use of sign language due to
When Broca originally defined aphemia, he used it to describe patients who lacked the
ability to articulate words while having the ability to move the lips and tongue for other
vocal sounds. Broca also noted that these patients were able to understand speech.
Unlike what was later known as Broca’s aphasia, patients with aphemis were described
as being able to produce words with ease, which is why aphemia is not the same as
Broca’s aphasia in the way it was originally described.
Aphemia comes from the Greek word "a" meaning "without," and the Greek word "pheme"
meaning "voice." Put the two words together and you have "without voice." Reference:
Broca P. Remarques sur le sie`ge de la faculte´ du langage articule´, suivies d’une
observation d’aphe´mie (perte de la parole). Bulletins de la Socie´te´d’anatomie (Paris),
2e serie 1861c; 6: 330-57.