Scientific Aims

Much of the research at the centre focuses on children and teenagers with specific language impairment (SLI). SLI is a disorder of language acquisition in the absence of any other obvious cognitive deficit, which affects 7% of children. It impairs communication and literacy, adversely affecting educational and vocational achievements. The long-term scientific aim of this work is to contribute to the development of a theory of SLI from genes to neurones, to cognitive mechanisms, to cognitive-language structure and function, addressing the nature and development of normal and impaired specialised cognitive systems.

Two main controversial issues regarding the nature and cause of SLI are central to this work. The first concerns the development of specialised cognitive system. Whereas the domain-general perspective proposes that general-purpose mechanisms become specialised through experience during development, and that pure impairments of a specialised system cannot exist, the alternative domain-specific perspective argues that genetically determined specialised mechanisms underlie different cognitive abilities and, therefore, predict the existence of pure primary impairments. The second controversial issue concerns the heterogeneity of SLI: Are there one or many forms of SLI? And what are the relations between co-occurring deficits found in some children? The answers to these questions are not only relevant to basic research in cognitive science, but also to applied research and clinical practice. For instance, if there are definable subgroups (with different aetiologies), distinctive therapeutic approaches may be called for.

In addressing these controversial issues, we investigate grammar (syntax, morphology, phonology) and non-grammatical language abilities, non-verbal abilities, word-learning, sentence processing and abstract rule extraction, while studying children with SLI and children developing normally. A number of these projects are set out below.

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