Linguistics and Linking Problems
University of Maryland
I am not an expert on language disorders. As a relative outsider at the meeting on which this volume is based, I was impressed by two general conclusions. First, I was impressed by the extreme specificity that is now possible in the descriptions of both genotypes and phenotypes for a number of different developmental disorders that affect language. Second, I was impressed by the gulf that lies at present between our understanding of the genetic causes and the behavioral outcomes of developmental disorders. Although we know a great deal in some instances about which genes are associated with which specific disorders, we have little idea about why those genes have the specific consequences that they have for language. The goal of this chapter is to outline two ways in which linguistics can be put to good use in helping to narrow this gap, particularly in relation to the search for brain-level models of language. In other words, my concern here is with the role of linguistics in the search for “linking hypotheses, ” for normal and disordered language alike.
I should make it clear at the outset that I do not mean to claim that linguistics has all of the answers. One of the main goals of the chapter is to argue that some basic changes are needed in fundamental assumptions about how linguistic knowledge is encoded to make linking hypotheses more tractable.