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Language in genetic syndromes and cognitive modularity

Stojanovik, V. ORCID: (2014) Language in genetic syndromes and cognitive modularity. In: Cummings, L. (ed.) The Cambridge handbook of communication disorders. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 541-558. ISBN 9781107021235

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In recent years, research into the impact of genetic abnormalities on cognitive development, including language, has become recognized for its potential to make valuable contributions to our understanding of the brain–behaviour relationships underlying language acquisition as well as to understanding the cognitive architecture of the human mind. The publication of Fodor’s ( 1983 ) book The Modularity of Mind has had a profound impact on the study of language and the cognitive architecture of the human mind. Its central claim is that many of the processes involved in comprehension are undertaken by special brain systems termed ‘modules’. This domain specificity of language or modularity has become a fundamental feature that differentiates competing theories and accounts of language acquisition (Fodor 1983 , 1985 ; Levy 1994 ; Karmiloff-Smith 1998 ). However, although the fact that the adult brain is modularized is hardly disputed, there are different views of how brain regions become specialized for specific functions. A question of some interest to theorists is whether the human brain is modularized from the outset (nativist view) or whether these distinct brain regions develop as a result of biological maturation and environmental input (neuroconstructivist view). One source of insight into these issues has been the study of developmental disorders, and in particular genetic syndromes, such as Williams syndrome (WS) and Down syndrome (DS). Because of their uneven profiles characterized by dissociations of different cognitive skills, these syndromes can help us address theoretically significant questions. Investigations into the linguistic and cognitive profiles of individuals with these genetic abnormalities have been used as evidence to advance theoretical views about innate modularity and the cognitive architecture of the human mind. The present chapter will be organized as follows. To begin, two different theoretical proposals in the modularity debate will be presented. Then studies of linguistic abilities in WS and in DS will be reviewed. Here, the emphasis will be mainly on WS due to the fact that theoretical debates have focused primarily on WS, there is a larger body of literature on WS, and DS subjects have typically been used for the purposes of comparison. Finally, the modularity debate will be revisited in light of the literature review of both WS and DS. Conclusions will be drawn regarding the contribution of these two genetic syndromes to the issue of cognitive modularity, and in particular innate modularity.

Item Type:Book or Report Section
Divisions:Life Sciences > School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences > Development
Life Sciences > School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences > Department of Clinical Language Sciences
Life Sciences > School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences > Language and Cognition
Interdisciplinary Research Centres (IDRCs) > Centre for Cognition Research (CCR)
ID Code:37815
Uncontrolled Keywords:modularity, genetic disorders, language
Publisher:Cambridge University Press


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