University of Cambridge > > Cambridge University Linguistic Society (LingSoc) > Eye tracking and syntactic processing in children with Williams Syndrome

Eye tracking and syntactic processing in children with Williams Syndrome

Add to your list(s) Download to your calendar using vCal

If you have a question about this talk, please contact Catherine Davies.

One of the main theoretical debates in Linguistics concerns the question of modularity: to what extent does language (particularly syntax) develop as a cognitive domain or module separate from other cognitive abilities from birth? Williams Syndrome, a rare hereditary disorder that causes severe learning difficulties, has been used as a source of evidence in the modularity debate. Some studies have found that WS children perform significantly better in language tasks than expected given their other cognitive abilities (Clahsen & Almazan, 1998; Bellugi et al 2000); these results have been taken as evidence for innate modularity. Other studies have found that WS children do not have a “verbal advantage” for their mental age, and that their syntactic abilities are in line with their other cognitive abilities (Karmiloff-Smith et al. 1997, Stojanovik et al. 2004). According to the Neuro-constructivist view (Karmiloff-Smith 1998), the genetic abnormality which causes Williams Syndrome affects the developmental pathway for each cognitive skill. This predicts that while children with Williams Syndrome may sometimes score relatively well in language tasks, they still may acquire and process language in a different way from typically developing children.

What is the best way to evaluate these competing theories? Previous studies looking at the syntactic abilities of children have used traditional “off-line” tasks, which have been found to overestimate language deficits and don’t reveal information about on-line syntactic processing. Eye tracking, a relatively new technology, allows direct observation of how people process language by monitoring their eye-movements as they view a visual scene while listening to a sentence. Eye tracking while listening has been used to investigate syntactic processing of wh-extracted sentences in adults with Broca’s aphasia, with unexpected results (Dickie et al 2007). We have adapted this experimental design in a pilot experiment using a Tobii (non-head mounted) eye tracker. Our results, both for off-line and on-line tasks, feed into the modularity question and also allow us to evaluate eye tracking as a useful methodology for investigating language abilities in WS children.

This talk is part of the Cambridge University Linguistic Society (LingSoc) series.

Tell a friend about this talk:

This talk is included in these lists:

Note that ex-directory lists are not shown.


© 2006-2024, University of Cambridge. Contact Us | Help and Documentation | Privacy and Publicity