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Auteur: Heather VAN DER LELY

Insight into the neurobiological basis of grammar acquisition from developmental grammatical impairments

Abstract/Résumé: This paper presents a perspective that utilises new techniques and advances in interdisciplinary knowledge from genetics and cognitive neuroscience to linguistics. Central to our perspective are genetic disorders that provide models of language impairment and in so doing provide a unique window onto the neurobiology of language. We focus on one developmental disorder “Specific Language Impairment” (SLI) and one of their impaired grammar components – syntax- and provide their phenotypic details based on behavioural and imaging studies. Our perspective on SLI is that the genetic effects underlying their syntactic disorder are nonetheless highly specific to sub-systems, related to discrete brain circuitry, for complex grammatical representations for structural dependencies at clause level within syntax. Furthermore, we tentatively hypothesise that these sub-system underlying grammatical component impairments are related to abnormalities of the left hemisphere, specifically to areas within the inferior frontal gyrus, superior posterior temporal lobe and the arcuate fasciculus, dorsal tract linking these areas. In addition sub-cortical abnormalities in the left basal ganglia appear to contribute to complex processing in this grammatical component. Such mapping from detailed linguistic phenotypes at the underlying computational (representational) levels to cortical and sub-cortical brain circuits to genes that contribute to these circuits provides a new and challenging perspective that we strongly advocate to advance theoretical and clinical knowledge of the neurobiology of language and its disorders.