University of Cambridge > > RCEAL Tuesday Colloquia > What can developmental language impairment tell us about genetic bases of syntax?

What can developmental language impairment tell us about genetic bases of syntax?

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Some language acquisition experts have questioned whether we need to posit innate neural specialisation for syntax, arguing that syntactic competence is an emergent property of the developing brain. According to this view, specific syntactic deficits in children are the downstream consequence of perceptual, memory or motor impairments affecting systems that are implicated in nonlinguistic as well as linguistic processing. Genetic studies of developmental language disorders pose difficulties for this viewpoint, showing that syntactic deficits are highly heritable, but are not readily explicable in terms of lower-level perceptual or motor impairments, and are distinct from limitations of phonological short-term memory. The data do not support the notion of a single “Grammar Gene”, but rather are compatible with an Adaptationist account which postulates that humans evolved a number of neural specialisations that are implicated in language processing.

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