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Knowledge of binding in Down syndrome: Evidence from English and Serbo-Croatian

Perovic, Alexandra; (2004) Knowledge of binding in Down syndrome: Evidence from English and Serbo-Croatian. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Research on Down syndrome (DS), a genetic disorder caused by a chromosomal abnormality, has uncovered unusual disparities between linguistic and cognitive development in this population. Dissociations between language and cognition are further reflected in the linguistic system itself, particularly between the computational components of the language faculty, such as morphosyntax and phonology on the one hand, and modules associated with the general processing systems, namely lexical knowledge, pragmatics and semantics, on the other. In an attempt to further elucidate the relationship between different linguistic modules in what seems to be a selective grammatical deficit in DS, this study focuses on the knowledge of binding, a module of grammar known to pose particular difficulties to children during the course of typical language acquisition. Performance of two groups of young adults with DS, English and Serbo-Croatian (SC) speakers, was compared to that of typically developing children at different stages of linguistic development. It was found that both English and SC-speaking subjects with DS had specific difficulties assigning an appropriate interpretation to reflexives, traditionally claimed to be governed by Principle A of standard Binding Theory (Chomsky, 1981; 1986), as opposed to pronouns, constrained by Principle B in the same framework. Not previously evidenced in the literature, this pattern is the reverse of the well- known 'Delay of Principle B Effect' attested in typical acquisition, at least in English-speaking children (Jakubowicz, 1984; Chien & Wexler, 1990; amongst others). Typically developing SC-speaking children showed mastery of both Principle A and Principle B, in line with reports on the acquisition of languages that use clitic forms as well as full pronouns in the object constructions tested. The findings suggest that the process of acquisition of binding in DS may be qualitatively different from typical linguistic development, rendering the traditional 'delayed but non-deviant' characterisation of language development in DS no longer tenable. In view of the well-known problems with standard Binding Theory, the analysis was couched within the Reflexivity framework of Reinhart & Reuland (1993). It is argued that the pattern shown in DS crosslinguistically is not caused by the unavailability of a binding principle but rather by a specific deficiency in establishing a binding relation between an anaphor and its antecedent. This contrast is one which is more readily characterised in the Reflexivity framework that in standard Binding Theory, thereby lending some support to the former. Moreover, the fact that the same deficit is found in both English and Serbo-Croatian speakers with DS adds considerable weight to the claim that grammar is selectively impaired in this disorder.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: Knowledge of binding in Down syndrome: Evidence from English and Serbo-Croatian
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Thesis digitised by ProQuest.
Keywords: Language, literature and linguistics; Psychology; Down syndrome; Linguistic development
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10101600
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