Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

Elderspeak: an examination of language directed at older adults

Elderspeak: an examination of language directed at older adults

Wendy D. Bartlo

This literature review examines a style of language, termed “elderspeak,” directed at persons identified as elderly.   Elderspeak is marked by all or some of the following components; changes in grammar, vocabulary, stress, and intonation.  The origins and employment of elderspeak in English-language environments are considered, in addition to an assessment of how this type of language indirectly serves to reinforce stereotypes about elderly individuals and elderly communicators.  The most common linguistic models used to understand language directed at older persons, Communication Accommodation Theory (CAT) and Communication Predicament Model of Aging, are reviewed to understand both what these models contribute to understandings of elderspeak and what they lack. This overview of elderspeak research extends to an examination of the implications use of this language has for older persons, by examining older adults’ perceptions of elderspeak and the use of language aimed at older adults in health care and dementia care settings.   Elderspeak is a complex linguistic style employed intentionally and unintentionally, and results in a variety of outcomes for both speakers and listeners. Future research on elderspeak should consider alternate linguistic models for analysis and the diverse characteristics that comprise individuals beyond their status as older adults.

Keywords: elderspeak; older adults; communication and aging

April 18, 2012 - Posted by | abstract


  1. Wendy- I look forward to reading your paper someday soon! It touches on a very interesting topic near and dear to the one I wrote about, from a completely different angle. I am very interested in what you found in relation to elderspeak with dementia patients. It is interesting how the ‘young’ sometimes infantalize the ‘old’, and so their language changes accordingly.

    Comment by Nadia Maraachli | April 23, 2012 | Reply

  2. Wendy: I am interested in this topic and do not have an impression from the abstract what the “problem” is. The first sentence reads: “This literature review examines a style of language, termed “elderspeak,” directed at persons identified as elderly. ” This proposes an examination but does not specific if more will be done beyond a presentation of the characteristics of elderspeak. You suggest that CAT and CPMA have shortcomings as models and there is the implication that elderspeak reinforces stereotypes, which I suspect you are against. Whose interests are served by the lacks in the CAT and CPMA models? Whose interests are served by the reinforcement of stereotypes in elderspeak? There is the general thesis (in the US, not necessarily elsewhere) that old people are a problem that need managing; doubtless, CAT, CPMA, and elderspeak all are “technologies” used by those who have to “deal” with the problem of the elderly to “deal” with our elders. This is, I suspect, the “real purpsoe” of your paper,r esponding to this humanly unjust discourse of inconvenience. A thesis statement might be something like: “As a form of conventionalized both intentional and unintentional form of communication directed at those people perceived as elderly, “elderspeak” not only reinforces but enforces undesirable stereotypes and consequences for our elder populations.” I hoep this helps. As someone who intends to be an elder someday, I hope your work makes things easier for us all.

    Comment by Snow Leopard | June 13, 2012 | Reply

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