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Co-Auteur(s): Hélène DELAGE, University of Geneva, Switzerland

Modularity and domain specificity in language and cognition

Abstract/Résumé: Theories aiming to account for language as a biologically-based human faculty must integrate psycholinguistic and linguistic phenomena with what is known about the nature of brain computations and other human cognitive capacities. We take a step in this direction by linking psycholinguistics and cognitive psychology and consider the extent to which language is domain-specific and based on principles that are different from those in other cognitive faculties, or whether language and other human cognitive capacities share essential properties. We first briefly examine the notion of modularity and its different definitions. This analysis leads us to retain the property of domain specificity as being central in defining modularity. We then outline the principal positions on the issue of the modularity and domain specificity of language ranging from a very narrow approach to an extended conception including for example verbal working memory. We present a heuristic framework that takes as its point of departure a modular view distinguishing language from general cognitive functions and that makes explicit the links between the different components that need to be tested. Finally using this framework, we provide four concrete examples of research that study the relationship between language and cognition. Although the results of this large body of research do not readily converge and are far from conclusive, the framework that we have provided for presenting them should be useful for exploring these relations more systematically in the future.