Bencini Colloquium, 2/7/12

The resilience of structure in talk: Evidence from language acquisition and language loss

Giulia Bencini, Ph.D
Hunter College, City University of New York

Within a larger debate in cognitive science, questions about the existence of abstract,structural, representations and processes operating independently of specific contenthave dominated much research in the psycholinguistics of language comprehension,production and acquisition. In this talk, I approach this question with data fromtwo “limiting cases”: language acquisition by young-three-year-olds and language loss byolder speakers with Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). In the first limiting case, I will presentdata from a syntactic priming experiment with young children indicating that youngmonolingual English children have more abstract sentence level representations thansuggested by lexicalist accounts of language acquisition. In the second limiting case, Iwill present data from a sentence production task with Italian and English speakers with(AD) showing that speakers’ knowledge of the fundamental structural properties of theirlanguage remains intact, even when much else is lost. I will discuss these data withincurrent theoretical debates in the cognitive neuroscience of language, as well as theirimplications for language interventions for both children and adults.