Nativism and Neuroconstructivism in the Explanation of Williams Syndrome

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Nativists about syntactic processing have argued that linguistic processing, understood as the implementation of a rule-based computational architecture, is spared in Williams syndrome, (WMS) subjects – and hence that it provides evidence for a genetically specified language module. This argument is bolstered by treating Specific Language Impairments (SLI) and WMS as a developmental double dissociation which identifies a syntax module. Neuroconstructivists have argued that the cognitive deficits of a developmental disorder cannot be adequately distinguished using the standard gross behavioural tests of neuropsychology and that the linguistic abilities of the WMS subject can be equally well explained by a constructivist strategy of neural learning in the individual, with linguisitic functions implemented in an associationist architecture. The neuroconstructivist interpretation of WMS undermines the hypothesis of a double dissociation between SLI and WMS, leaving unresolved the question of nativism about syntax. The apparent linguistic virtuosity of WMS subjects is an artefact of enhanced phonological processing, a fact which is easier to demonstrate via the associationist computational model embraced by neuroconstructivism.

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