Julien Musolino will give the department colloquium on Friday, April 5, at 3:30 in Machmer E-37. The title and abstract of his talk follow.
Genes, language, and the nature of scientific explanations: the case of Williams Syndrome
Over the past 20 years or so, Williams Syndrome (WS) has received considerable attention from scholars interested in the structure and development of the human mind. The main reason is that this rare genetic disorder represents a natural experiment which suggests a potential dissociation between language and other aspects of cognition. WS has thus been cited as evidence supporting the kind of modular view of mental architecture advocated most famously by Jerry Fodor (1983) and Noam Chomsky (1965, 1986, 1995) (Anders, 1998; Bickerton, 1997; Piatelli-Palmarini, 2001; Pinker 1994). Recently, however, the status of linguistic knowledge in individuals with WS --- as well as its broader implications --- has become a hotly debated topic and has led to the emergence of strongly conflicting empirical claims and theoretical accounts (e.g., Karmiloff-Smith, 1997, 1998; Karmiloff and Karmiloff-Smith, 2001; Clahsen and Almazan, 1998; Pinker, 1999; Tager-Flusberg, pleas-Skerer, Faja, and Joseph, 2003; Mervis and Becerra, 2007; Brok 2007). In order to shed some light on these important issues, I will present the results of a set of interrelated experiments designed to assess knowledge of core syntactic and semantic principles in individuals with WS. Overall, these results support the conclusion that grammatical knowledge in WS is governed by the same abstract principles that characterize typically developing and mature systems, and thus that knowledge of grammar is not impaired in WS (Tager-Flusberg, pleas-Skerer, Faja, and Joseph, 2003; Brock, 2007; Thomas, in press). Broader implications of this conclusion for competing accounts of language development in WS, as well as for the relevance of WS to the study of cognitive architecture and development will be discussed.