Adolph Kussmaul


Adolph Kussmaul was a German physician and researcher who contributed significantly to many areas of science and medicine. His writings spanned a domains including cardiology, rheumatology, endocrinology, gastroenterology, psychiatry, neurology and speech pathology. He combined laboratory testing with complete clinical evaluations, including information from his patients’ histories and a physical examination. His approach was revolutionary for the time, and created a lasting change in how disease was approached.

Kussmaul wrote about many kinds of speech disorders. In 1877, he published a treatise on “Disturbances of speech.” The 36 sections (he called them chapters) of the treatise contain case descriptions, including people who have speech or language problems caused by stroke, traumatic brain injury, dementia, or infection.

In his same treatise, Kussmaul, identified children with language disorders who were competent intellectually. He commented on “very interesting cases of congenital aphasia in intelligent boys” (Kussmaul,1877,p. 203). And, in that significant essay, Kussmaul coined the term and described “word blindness.” wherein he identified cases with normal vision and intellect who lose the ability to read words while maintaining the ability to speak normally (and in some cases even to write).

Kussmaul (1879) saw stuttering as a spasmodic neurosis of coordination. The coordination problem involved a disharmony of action between the muscles of respiration, vocalization, and articulation. The disharmony was manifest in spastic contractions of articulation. Kussmaul recommended that stuttering be treated by training the person to use will-power, by having the person exercise of the organs of speech and respiration using vocal gymnastics and, later in the therapeutic regimen, by having the person use rhythmic speech.

References by and about Adolf Kussmaul, arranged chronologically

Kussmaul, A. (1877). Diseases of the nervous system and disturbances of speech. In H. von Ziemssen (Ed.) & J.A. McCreery (Trans.), Cyclopedia of the practice of Medicine.

Kussmaul A. (1877). Die Storungen der Sprache. Versuch einer Pathologie der Sprache. Vogel, Leipzig

Potter, S. (1882). Speech and its defects. (

Bast TH. (1926) The life and time of Adolf Kussmaul. New York, NY: Paul B. Hoeber.

Anonymous, (1964) Adolf Kussmaul (1822–1902). Country doctor to clinical professor. JAMA 189:58–59. CrossRefMedlineWeb of ScienceGoogle Scholar

Jarema, G. (1993). In Sensu non in situ: The Prodromic Cognitivism of Kussmaul. Brain and Language 45(4):495-510.

Johnson SK, Naidu RK, Ostopowicz RC, et al. (2009) Adolf Kussmaul: distinguished clinician and medical pioneer. Clinical Medicine & Research. 7, 3, 107-112. DOI: 10.3121/cmr.2009.850.