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Psychology Colloquium, Thursday, September 15th, 2016, 4:30 PM. McConnell 103
Wolfram Hinzen: A New LinguisticLlens on Disorders of Thought
The foundational question of the relation between language and human-specific thought can be addressed by looking at clinical cognitive diversity in humans that is accompanied by linguistic diversity, a connection that opens opportunities for studying their link. Our lab has adopted this methodology and engaged in a series of comparative studies of clinical language profiles across mental pathologies such as schizophrenia (SZ), autism, and Huntington’s disease (HD). In this talk I will focus on HD and SZ. I firstly report on two studies of patients with HD, where cognitive changes accompanying the more obvious motor problems seen in this disorder are well documented but have barely been studied in their linguistic dimensions. Our results, documenting the first systematic linguistic profile of spontaneous HD speech, reveal structural language changes linked to degeneration in the striatum even before motor symptom onset, which affect meaning premised by grammatical organization, particularly reference. Secondly I report ongoing work on patients with positive symptoms of SZ such as delusions, hallucinations and formal thought disorder. While these again have barely been looked at from a linguistic point of view, delusions clinically take the form of anomalous assertions; hallucinations are prominently verbal in schizophrenia; and formal thought disorder effectively consists in disordered speech production. Yet how language matters to these symptoms depends on our notion of what language is. The un-Cartesian linguistic perspective of Hinzen & Sheehan (2013) adopts a specific hypothesis of which aspects of the human-specific thought process are mediated by language. Against this background, positive symptoms may manifest a language faculty disintegrating at different levels, suggesting the fruitfulness of exploring a new linguistic perspective on the neurocognition of schizophrenia as well.
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