Semantic Feature Analysis
Aphasia and Anomia
Aphasia is a language disorder that results from damage to the left hemisphere of the brain involving areas responsible for language. Effects of aphasia are seen in comprehension and expression, as well as social functioning and quality of life (Papathanasiou, Coppens & Potagas, 2012). One common feature seen in most aphasia cases is known as anomia. Anomia is a word finding deficit that often results in the inability to name an object. Interestingly, those with anomia know the features and function of object, but are often unable to identify its name. The name is not “erased” from an individual’s vocabulary, rather, it is inaccessible (Goodglass & Wingfield, 1997). Anomia leads to ineffective communication and is often a primary focus in aphasia therapy.
Semantic Feature Analysis (SFA) is an easy and cost effective therapy technique that targets anomia. ‘Semantic’ is a fancy way of saying vocabulary and ‘feature’ is another way of saying attributes. SFA is rooted in the theory (see below) that neural networks between concepts can be reinforced and strengthened resulting in more automatic access to vocabulary (Davis & Stanton, 2005).
Components of SFA:
SFA consists of a chart with a blank space in the middle and boxes that extend from the center. The center box can be filled with a picture of any noun (i.e. a cat). The other boxes, or feature categories for the target, include spaces for categories including: group, use, action, properties, location and association. For a target such as “cat”, an individual can fill the spaces with associations such as pet, animal, furry, purr, etc.
The clinician presents the client with a picture of an object. If a client cannot name the object, they will move on to step 2.
The clinician and client will focus on descriptions and functions of the object that cannot be named. Once prompted, the client provides a verbal response for each semantic feature (association, group, action, properties, location and use). The client receives both visual and auditory cues as the clinician both writes and verbalizes responses.
Once each of the features are named and discussed, the clinician will prompt the client to name the picture once again. During SFA, the client receives both visual and auditory cues as the clinician both writes and verbalizes responses (Boyle, 2004; Davis & Stanton, 2005).
The clinician will review the completed worksheet.
Why does it work?
The SFA technique is based on the Spreading Activation Theory. This theory basically says that all of the words in our brain are organized in “semantic networks”. Words with strong associations are organized close to each other. When someone says something like “cat”, a lot of us may think dog! This is because we have similar associations based on our surroundings and experiences. As a clinician reviews attributes that are associated with a target word, an individual is more likely to access that ‘network’ and come up with the target word. The overall goal of this therapy is to strengthen semantic networks to create a more automatic access to vocabulary (Davis & Stanton, 2005).
Why Therapists Love it
Training in SFA may result in the ability of those with aphasia to create their own cueing system to reach a target word, important to generalization of the skills learned in therapy. Several studies have shown the efficacy of treatment of SFA, and have shown the generalizability from treated to untreated items (Boyle, 2004).
Boyle, M. (2004). Semantic feature analysis treatment for anomia in two fluent aphasia
syndromes. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 13(3), 236-249.
Davis, L. A., & Stanton, S. T. (2005). Semantic feature analysis as a functional therapy tool. Contemporary Issues in Communication Science and Disorders, 32, 85-92.
Goodglass, H., & Wingfield, A. (Eds.). (1997). Anomia: Neuroanatomical and cognitive
correlates. Academic Press.
Papathanasiou, I., Coppens, P., & Potagas, C. (2012). Aphasia and Related Neurogenic
Communication Disorders. Jones & Bartlett Publishers.