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LINGUIST List 20.3108

Tue Sep 15 2009

Diss: Lang Acq/Neuroling: Modyanova: 'Semantic and Pragmatic...'

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        1.    Nadezhda (Nadya) Modyanova, Semantic and Pragmatic Language Development in Typical Acquisition, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and Williams Syndrome with Reference to Developmental Neurogenetics of the Latter

Message 1: Semantic and Pragmatic Language Development in Typical Acquisition, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and Williams Syndrome with Reference to Developmental Neurogenetics of the Latter
Date: 15-Sep-2009
From: Nadezhda (Nadya) Modyanova <nnmmit.edu>
Subject: Semantic and Pragmatic Language Development in Typical Acquisition, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and Williams Syndrome with Reference to Developmental Neurogenetics of the Latter
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Institution: Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Program: Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2009

Author: Nadezhda (Nadya) N Modyanova

Dissertation Title: Semantic and Pragmatic Language Development in Typical Acquisition, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and Williams Syndrome with Reference to Developmental Neurogenetics of the latter

Linguistic Field(s): Language Acquisition
                            Neurolinguistics

Dissertation Director:
Kenneth Wexler
Damon Page
Irene Heim

Dissertation Abstract:

The elucidation of the biological bases of a complex trait like human
language proceeds from identification of precise behavioral phenotypes to
investigation of the underlying genes.

The human behavioral parts of this dissertation focus on understanding the
reasons for children's overuse of definite article 'the', to refer to one
of several objects in a context set, as opposed to the unique established
referent. Competing theories argue the deficit is either in children's
semantic computational knowledge (of uniqueness/maximality), or in their
pragmatic/social awareness/theory-of-mind development. Experiments in this
dissertation focused on children's comprehension and interpretation of the
indefinite and definite determiners, as well as 'that', anaphors 'another'
and 'same', and free relative clauses.

The results in this thesis suggest that in typically developing (TD)
children the late acquisition of determiner 'the' is due to the late
maturation of the semantic principle of maximality. Children with autism
spectrum disorders (ASD) and with Williams syndrome (WS) either manifested
an adult-like competence, an absence of manifestation of knowledge, or a
pattern found in TD younger children (where 'that' is understood better
than 'the' as referring to the salient unique referent) - indicating delay
of development of the language faculty, but no deviance. This suggests that
the observed deficits in ASD and WS pattern with those in TD, and hence are
also semantic in nature.

The mouse neurogenetic part of this dissertation investigates whether the
GTF2I family of genes, causal to WS behavioral phenotype, also contributes
to WS cortical development. By overexpression of Gtf2i and Gtf2ird1 in the
mouse neocortex via in utero electroporation, their effects on laminar
patterning and cell morphogenesis during brain development are characterized.

The present results suggest that these genes can synergistically contribute
to the abnormal neocortical development in WS, and thereby could contribute
to language deficits in WS.

Beyond posing an explanatory challenge to linguistic theories, the research
comparing typical and atypical development sheds light on the mechanisms of
language development and impairment, and provides endophenotypic
descriptions of ASD and WS, which are crucial for elucidating not only
genetics of neurodevelopmental disorders, but also the genetic basis of the
human language faculty.



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