PhD Research Project: Understanding the role of silence in conversations with people with aphasia

University of Sheffield

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United Kingdom

Position type:

Full time

06 Dec 2016
01 Feb 2017

Full details:

Reference number: SHEFF-80863


This project will investigate how health care staff and people with aphasia both employ and react to stretches of silence in conversation, in order to facilitate them in playing an active role in conversations with care staff. One of the main pieces of advice for having better conversations with people with aphasia is to tolerate longer silences; eg., suggests: "listen patiently and give me time"; the Stroke Association itself funded the Ask.Wait.Listen campaign for GP surgeries, and has "Tips for helping conversation" which suggests "Give the person time to take in what you say and to respond". Although this communicative advice comes from work involving people with aphasia themselves, at the most recent BAS it was noted that there is clear scope for research into the detail of how silences are enacted in conversations involving people with aphasia.

Thus, the main aim of the research will be to investigate the taken-for-granted claim that because people with aphasia have had a brain injury resulting in language impairment, their silences should be treated as a reflex of the additional processing time needed to decode/encode language. However, we know that silence can be a way of indicating meaning in a conversation; one may purposefully withhold an answer to a question to indicate or foreshadow a negative response. Silences thus play a powerful role in displaying disagreement, and non-alignment with what a co-conversationalist is saying (Levinson 1983, Heritage 1984, Jefferson 1989). It may be that in some cases people with aphasia are manipulating silences to this end, but there is little published research on the purposeful interactional use of silences by people with aphasia. By helping us gain a better understanding of the use of these unprepossessing but vitally important elements of conversation, this research could inform, improve and update communication guidelines for interacting with people with aphasia.

The research will use Conversation Analysis to analyse video recordings of normally-occurring interactions between people with aphasia and the staff caring for them, to analyse how silences are utilised by people with aphasia and how silences are treated by the healthcare staff. The project can be shaped to investigate either therapeutic conversations between speech and language therapists and people with aphasia, or conversations between people with aphasia and other members of the multi-disciplinary team, eg., nurses, occupational therapists, physical therapists.

How to apply

Please apply through our online postgraduate application system including the Scholarship section where you need to tick the ’University Scholarships’ box. The form will ask you to summarise your research proposal in less than 800 words. If you are unsure about what to put in this section, please contact your prospective supervisor. Please name your supervisor and select their department Human Communication Sciences through the online form.

Deadline: 5pm 1st February 2017

Funding Notes


The Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry & Health Doctoral Academy Scholarships cover Home/EU fee and RCUK rate stipend for three years. Overseas students may apply but will need to fund the difference between the Home and Overseas fee from another source.

Proposed start date: October 2017

Entry Requirements

Candidates must have a first or upper second class honors degree or significant research experience. A background in qualitative research methods especially conversation or discourse analysis is desirable.

Remember to mention Global Academy Jobs when you apply

How to apply

Please go to the University Website and search for the keywords: Understanding the role of silence in conversations with people with aphasia