Academic journal article Psychology in Russia

Morphology and Developmental Language Disorders: New Tools for Russian

Academic journal article Psychology in Russia

Morphology and Developmental Language Disorders: New Tools for Russian

Article excerpt

Clinical psycholinguistics, an interdisciplinary area of research at the intersection of cognitive psychology, clinical psychology, neuroscience, and (psycho) linguistics is a relatively new subfield of psycholinguistics. It has undergone important developments in the last two decades, when, in addition to detailed studies of language processing in patients with aphasia, a major focus has been placed on understanding precise areas of deficits found in children with developmental language disorders. These

disorders include Specific Language Impairment (SLI) - a disorder of language acquisition in the absence of obvious explanatory factors (such as hearing impairment, autism, frank neurological abnormalities or genomic syndromes), and dyslexia or Specific Reading Disability (SRD) - difficulties in acquiring word decoding skills unexpected by the child's cognitive development or education background. The major goal of the field is to describe which aspects language are impaired and which ones are spared in order to 1) provide a basis for developing effective intervention strategies; and 2) understand the cognitive structure of the human oral and written language capacity in general, as part of our global understanding of human cognition.

The logic of research in this area has been and is still mostly guided by the insights from the aphasiology research formulated before the 1980s (e.g., Luria, 1969). Thus, according to the fractionation assumption (Caramazza, 1984), brain damage can result in the selective impairment of specific sub-components of language. The transparency assumption maintains that the components unaffected by the brain damage will continue to function normally, and the output of the language system will selectively reveal the impairment in the affected component rather than a generally malfunctioning system as a whole. The same logic has been (implicitly) applied to developmental disorders, where, however, identifying a precise locus of impairment in the brain is greatly more challenging than in the case of brain lesions, and behavioral deficits are rarely as selective as in aphasia. In addition, genetic research in the etiology of developmental language disorders has led to a realization that these disorders are complex and are likely to involve multiple genetic and environmental factors acting in concert (e.g., SLI Consortium, 2002, 2004; Grigorenko, 2009). The search for the genetic bases of developmental disorders, despite some spectacular successes (such as the discovery of the FOXP2 gene and its mutation in the three-generational KE family, Lai et al., 2001), has seen a number of setbacks, including pervasive non-replications.

A major hurdle in the psychological, neurological, and genetic research of language developmental disorders is the substantial heterogeneity of these disorders and the significant overlap of their symptoms. Thus, children with SLI may display mild to severe problems in production and comprehension in all major domains of language, particularly in inflectional morphology, complex syntactic constructions, such as relative clauses or other types of subordinate clauses, and lexicon (Leonard,

1998; Leonard, Caselli, Bortolini & McGregor, 1992). Some may also have phonological deficits, a delayed development of Theory of Mind and pragmatics, and many go on to develop difficulties in learning to read and spell. The aforementioned fractionation and transparency assumptions do not appear to be productive and thus require the development of new theories and hypotheses.

In this context, developing research tools able to isolate basic, more precise, and theoretically based psycholinguistic traits for characterizing children with developmental disorders is one of the major goals of clinical linguistics. At the same time, it is very important to broaden the empirical base of clinical psycholinguistics to include data from crosslinguistic studies in order to gain a deeper understanding of the cognitive underpinnings of the disorders and be better equipped in the search for the pathways between genes, brain, and human behavior. …

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