Johann Augustin Philipp Gesner


Johann Gesner was an 18th century German physician and medical writer whose work covered a number of areas of medicine. In 1770 he wrote a major work devoted to the study of aphasia called 'Die Sprachamnesie'. In it, Gesner describes the symptoms of several patients, focusing on one, KD, who exhibited symptoms of what Gesner called “speech amnesia”.

Arthur Benton, whose work on Gesner has contributed significantly to the history of speech pathology in the 18th century describes Gesner’s contribution to aphasia as follows:

There can be little doubt that this chapter by Gesner on 'speech amnesia' was indeed a major contribution and that, from a number of points of view, it represents a landmark in the study of aphasia. The first case report in it was incomparably more comprehensive and detailed than anything that had been published previously. It is a superb description of jargon aphasia and its value was recognized by later writers, such as Alexander Crichton and Jules Falret, who cited it in their discussions of disorders of speech and memory. Taken together, this case report and the five additional briefer ones presented in the discussion provide a wealth of information about such diverse clinical features of aphasia as jargon agraphia, differential impairment in reading one language as compared to another, retention of the ability to recite familiar prayers within the setting of grossly defective spontaneous, conversational and imitative speech, and inability to read aloud with at least partial preservation of the ability to read silently with understanding. There is even a suggestion of the existence of a sensory form of aphasia in Gesner's discussion of the first patient's inability to grasp the import of a series of abstract ideas and in his report of the testimony of another patient that the latter experienced difficulty in understanding the speech of other people.

Writings about Johann Gesner

Benton, A. L. (1965b). Johann A. P. Gesner on aphasia. Medical History, 9, 54–60.

Benton, A. L., & Joynt, R. J. (1963). Three pioneers in the study of aphasia (Johann Schmidt, Peter Rommel, Johann Augustin Philipp Gesner). Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, 18,


Luzzatti, C. (2002). Johann August Philipp Gesner (1738-1801): A review of his essay The language amnesia in the bicentennial anniversary of his death. Journal of the History of Neurosciences, 11, 1, 29-34.