GraC, the Grammar & Cognition lab, seeks to model linguistic diversity, whether neurotypical or clinical. It focuses on links between language and forms of cognition other than language, by studying patterns of language deviance in disorders that affect language along with other aspects of cognition. Language pathologies have long informed linguistic theory, especially in the cases of post-stroke aphasia and specific language impairment. GraC seeks to expand the range of language dysfunction considered in clinical linguistics, by studying diverse language patterns seen across the autism spectrum, in schizophrenia, and in the different dementias. We aim for work in which influence between the language sciences and the clinic (and special schools) is bi-directional, and where academic research results translate into practical changes in the hands of doctors and teachers. We use a range of empirical methods, from behavioural linguistic analysis and experiments using eye-tracking, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and electroencephalography (EEG). GraC is keen to embed its empirical and experimental work in theoretical linguistics and to construct a new typology of clinical linguistic diversity and how it is linked to non-linguistic cognitive dysfunction. Our heuristic is a foundational framework known as 'un-Cartesian' linguistics. This framework explores whether the human-specific thought process is inherently linked to our language capacity. To whatever extent this would prove to be so, language would not merely be a means of communication but an instrument of thought, which in fact configures our mental life and could thus be key to understanding mental disorders.
Language dysfunction in neurodevelopmental disorders
So far, our research here has expanded to autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and Williams syndrome (WS). In relation to the former, we study anomalous patterns of language development across the entire spectrum, particularly including its nonverbal part, where language effectively does not develop at all. In this and the case of WS, our primary research question is how verbal and nonverbal cognitive development relate, how a typology of clinical linguistic diversity can be built, and what the neural basis of these types of linguistic dysfunction is.
Language in neuropsychiatric disorders
Even if language and cognition seem to develop normally, they can disintegrate in young adulthood, the typical onset of neuropsychiatric disorders. Focusing specifically on schizophrenia, we have identified language patterns that specifically identify speech of patients said to have ‘formal thought disorder’, and we investigate the neural basis of this syndrome as well as language dysfunction leading to speech being heard when there is no speech (auditory verbal hallucinations).
Language in neurodegenerative disorders
There is very promising evidence that in Alzheimer’s disease as well as in Huntington’s disease, which both lead to dementia, language anomalies can be detected years before a formal diagnosis is made. Our primary research focus here is therefore on documenting these early language changes and how they can track cognitive decline over time.
Modelling linguistic diversity within and across pathologies
linguistic diversity in neuro-typical populations has been a major domain of investigation within modern linguistic theory. Modelling the range and limits of variation has led to major insights into the nature of universal grammar and its cognitive underpinnings. It thus comes as a surprise that linguistic diversity which correlates with neuro-diversity has not been explored. We are currently testing a model rooted within the Un-Cartesian framework according to which grammar serves as the bridge between two pre-linguistic cognitive capacities, namely categorization and social interaction.
Carrer de Roc Boronat, 138, 08018 Barcelona, Spain