LINGUIST List 5.809

Thu 14 Jul 1994

Disc: Linguist-bashing

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  1. Paul Deane, Correction to Fromkin/Linguist-Bashing post

Message 1: Correction to Fromkin/Linguist-Bashing post

Date: Tue, 12 Jul 1994 18:50:03 Correction to Fromkin/Linguist-Bashing post
From: Paul Deane <an995FreeNet.Carleton.CA>
Subject: Correction to Fromkin/Linguist-Bashing post

Readers of my response to Fromkin's post on linguist-bashing etc. should
note the following correction. One of the risks of attending to one's
e-mail at 6 in the morning before going to work is that one sometimes
reverses one's statements, accidentally saying the opposite of what one
means. This happened in my statements about Williams Syndrome.

Of course, Williams Syndrome involves preservation of critical language
abilities, such as syntax, in the presence of broad cognitive impairments.
My remarks had to do with Bellugi's observation that the cognitive
impairments are not, in fact, monolithic, but involve selective impairment
of some aspects of spatial cognition but not others. The following quote
from one of Bellugi's grant proposals explains precisely what I was
referring to:

This section is from the document '/.index/ftp/awards88/awd8820/a8820673'.

Title : Dissociations between Language and Cognition: Evidence from
 a Neurodevelopmental Disorder
Type : Award
Date : March 17, 1989
File : a8820673

Award Number: 8820673
Award Instr.: Continuing Grant
Pgrm Manager: Paul G. Chapin
Start Date : April 1, 1989
Expires : September 30, 1990
Amt to Date : $140,000
Investigator: Ursula [7mBellugi [m
Sponsor : Salk Institute for Biological Studies
 Lab.for Language Studies
 P.O. Box 85800
 San Diego, CA 92128 619/453-4100

NSF Program : 1311 LINGUISTICS
Fld Science : 71 Psychology Biological Aspects
Fld Applictn: 0000099 Other Applications NEC
Abstract :

 The general objectives of the research are to understand the
 interrelationship and separability of language and cognition.
 Williams Syndrome (WS), a rare (est. 1:50,000) metabolic disorder
 provides a unique and powerful vehicle for investigating separa-
 bility of higher cortical functions. Preliminary studies with
 six WS adolescents suggest a specific behavioral profile which is
 discontinuous from normal; subjects are mentally retarded with
 grammatical capacity remarkably spared. The broad program of
 studies outlined below will provide a new and important perspec-
 tive on the neural basis for language and cognition.

 I. Decoupling of language from cognition

 The precise relationship between language structure
 (grammar) and other aspects of cognitive functions is a hotly
 debated theoretical issue. The study of normal development sheds
 little light on this issue in that linguistic and nonlinguistic
 cognitive faculties are so intertwined that it is extremely
 difficult to separate these functions. In contrast, subjects
 with WS may provide a unique opportunity to address hypotheses
 bearing on the dissociability of linguistic and nonlinguistic
 cognitive domains and their underlying neural basis.

 II. The selective autonomy of syntax

 The investigators will mount a broad program of probes of
 syntax and semantics, using both on-line and off-line tasks which
 may show fractionation of higher cortical functioning. They will
 examine the degree to which linguistic components are vulnerable
 to marked cognitive deficits. The preliminary hypothesis is that
 language in WS subjects may be characterized by the relative
 preservation of the most autonomous aspects of the linguistic
 system (syntax), and that to the extent that other cognitive
 systems interact with a component of the linguistic system, e.g.
 in the semantic domain, increasing deviance in language organiza-
 tion may be found. The selective preservation of grammar in this
 population would provide an important testing ground for determi-
 nants of cerebral specialization for language.

 III. Differential impairment in components of spatial cognition

 Spatial cognition has traditionally resisted fractionation
 into components; however, WS may provide a strong case for dis-
 sociations within this domain. The investigators will explore
 the hypothesis that WS results in severely impaired visuospatial
 abilities, but preserved visuoperceptual capacities. In
 addition, preliminary studies suggest that spatial cognition in
 WS is characterized by a selective attnetion to details of a
 configuration at the expense of the whole.

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