Language Indicators in Major Depression Disorder

Language Indicators in Major Depression Disorder

Trifu et al (2017) completed a study on the role of language in Major Depressive Disorder and it’s possible to use as an identification measure and outcome tool.

Trifu et al (2017) research found speech and language processing is significantly influenced by depression (Bernard, Baddeley, Rodriguez, & Burke, 2016). Focusing on the linguistic aspects of speech, Smirnova et al. (2013) showed that in the case of depressive patients, language presents a specific pattern on stylistic and grammar fields. Using content analysis techniques, either text or recorded sample, other researchers also identified parts of speech that can serve as markers of emotional state (Pennebaker, Mehl, & Niederhoffer, 2003). Linguistic trends of individuals with depression showed increased first person singular pronouns, high rate of words with negative meaning (Bernard et al., 2016) and self-focused language (Jarrold et al., 2011).

The results of Trifu et al (2017) study confirmed the existence of linguistic indicators for depressive patients. These included;

  • use of the singular form pronoun, mainly 1st person pronouns use (e.g. I, me, myself)
  • tendency of self-focus  
  • extensive past tense use for verb actions
  • inverted word order for a topic (e.g. “and now the same I work, where there I was doing”)
  • use of emphasis (e.g. “I have liked it since childhood”)
  • short sentences (e.g. I don’t like anything, I like only to go home)
  • impersonal sentences (e.g. “Now it is true the world is like that”)
  • truncated sentences (A sentence that has been cut short e.g. “I like reading” vs “I like reading more than Diane”)
  • arid sentences
  • presence of ellipsis (omission of words but the sentence can still be understood)
  • tautologies (Saying the same thing twice just with different words, eg. “He either learns that he likes it or he learns that it should be learned”)
  • repetition and lack of comparison.

The changes in morphologic-syntactic-lexical language dimensions are associated with deficits in working memory, set shifting, strategic planning, attention and psychomotor speed, as assessed through the Cogtest neuropsychological measurements conducted by the researchers.

Language is an important indicator of how a person’s brain is functioning. The use of linguistics in psychopathology is a promising field that has much utility on identifying psychopathology, selecting interventions and measuring outcomes.



Bernard, J. D., Baddeley, J. L., Rodriguez, B. F., & Burke, P. A. (2016). Depression, Language, and Affect: An Examination of the Influence of Baseline Depression and Affect Induction on Language. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 35(3), 317–326.

Jarrold, W., Javitz, H. S., Krasnow, R., Peintner, B., Yeh, E., Swan, G. E., & Mehl, M. (2011). Depression and Self-Focused Language in Structured Interview with Older Men. Psychological Reports, 109(2), 686–700.

Pennebaker, J. W., Mehl, M. R., & Niederhoffer, K. G. (2003). Psychological aspects of natural language. use: our words, our selves. Annual Review of Psychology, 54, 547–77.

Smirnova, D., Sloeva, E., Kuvshinova, N., Krasnov, A., Romanov, D., & Nosachev, G. (2013b). 1419 – Language changes as an important psychopathological phenomenon of mild depression. In European Psychiatry (Vol. 28, p. 1). Elsevier Masson.

Trifu, R. N., Nemes, B., Bodea-Hategan, C., & Cozman, D. (2017). LINGUISTIC INDICATORS OF LANGUAGE IN MAJOR DEPRESSIVE DISORDER (MDD). AN EVIDENCE BASED RESEARCH. Journal of Evidence - Based Psychotherapies, 17(1), 105-128. Retrieved from