Research Topic

Language and thought across pathologies

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Both human language and human thought are qualitatively unique in the biological realm. Consequently, their interrelation is a crucial topic for understanding core properties of our species. One question is the separability of these domains: insofar as both are qualitatively unique, how much does thought ...

Both human language and human thought are qualitatively unique in the biological realm. Consequently, their interrelation is a crucial topic for understanding core properties of our species. One question is the separability of these domains: insofar as both are qualitatively unique, how much does thought depend on language? One traditional view thinks of language in ‘modular’ terms, separating ‘language’ from thought or ‘non-linguistic’ cognition and viewing language as ‘translating’ thought into a format fit for communication. Another equally traditional view sees thought as it exists in our species as inherently intertwined with language and as inseparable from it.


The debate on the relationship between language and thought has been approached from many different angles including linguistics, philosophy, anthropology, psychology, evolutionary biology and neuroscience. In this topic section we explore evidence from pathological cases and groups. Such research is special in that it tries to answer these questions with evidence from people who suffer from linguistic impairment, “other” cognitive impairment, or both. Associations and dissociations between linguistic and other abilities shed light on the separability and on potential dependencies or independencies between different separable cognitive systems. This can inform linguistic theory, as much as it depends on integrating insights from linguistics into psychopathology. In addition, such research can contribute to understanding pathogenesis and to the development of clinical methods for diagnosis and intervention.


For example, language changes have long been noted to accompany cognitive changes in schizophrenia, and anomalies of language use are a prime diagnostic criterion of autism. The language profiles of both can as such be compared, and we can attempt to systematically relate them to the cognitive differences and overlaps between the two syndromes. Down’s Syndrome, William’s syndrome, aphasia, bipolar illness and neurodegenerative disorders also all provide further rich empirical domains for inquiry into the cognitive significance of language.


We are interested in all research driven by clear hypotheses about specific aspects of language and specific aspects of cognition (e.g. mathematics, social cognition, navigation, general information processing, inferential reasoning, emotion regulation, concept and event categorisation) in the context of pathologies. The data do not need to be novel if novelty of the contribution is achieved at the level of theory or data analysis.


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