Background It is widely recognised that patients with Huntington’s disease (HD) present not only with motor but also with cognitive impairments. The question arises whether these cognitive changes are associated with linguistic changes, given a tight correlation between language and higher cognition, or language and thought, which a number of recent models in theoretical linguistics and studies across populations with cognitive disorders support.
Aims To study linguistic deficits in asymptomatic carriers and in the early stages of HD, intending to build a profile of the grammatical changes characteristic of this disorder.
Methods A sample of 32 individuals were recruited: 8 manifest HD patients (stages 1, 2), 8 asymptomatic carriers and 16 matched controls.
Linguistic and cognitive variables were collected throughout an experiment based on 5 different tasks (spontaneous speech, verbal and non-verbal video clip commentaries, pairing test of phrases and images, adjective control test) and a neuropsychological battery (Abbreviated Boston naming test, Tap test, verbal fluency test, STROOP test, Trail Making Test A&B. Symbol-Digit Modalities Test. MMSE).
Linguistic samples were transcribed and analysed. ANOVA and Kruskall-Wallis test were applied to find significant differences between controls, asymptomatic carriers and manifest HD patients.
Results The results indicate that the linguistic profile of patients is impaired from the initial stage of the disease in various fields (prosody, morphology, syntax, semantics and discourse). These patients also exhibit difficulties in interpreting sentences containing ToM and subordinate contexts.
Conclusions This work can be conceived as a first approach to the linguistic and cognitive profile of asymptomatic carriers and early HD patients. It can also serve as a basis for the creation of clinical tests (from a linguistic point of view) whose objective is to determine the progression of certain cognitive disorders.