Language Sciences is pleased to present ‘Language Science Talks‘, a series of talks by outstanding researchers in the language sciences from around the world. The first five talks are being held in conjunction with the graduate course Psychology 584A, “Language Development in Infancy and Childhood”, and will focus on topics in that area. These talks are supported in part by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) 2015 Gold Medal award given to Janet Werker.
The talks will be held in the Auditorium in the Beaty Biodiversity Museum (2212 Main Mall). Admission is free, and all are welcome! Pre-registration is recommended, as seating is limited; registration links are given below. Please let the staff at the admission desk of the museum know that you are attending the Language Sciences talk.
More information about the series is available here.
Simon E. Fisher, Max Planck Institute (Njimegen) and Donders Brain and Language Institute
A molecular genetic perspective on speech and language
Tuesday, March 28, 2017, 3:30 pm
The rise of molecular technologies has yielded exciting new routes for studying the biological foundations of language. In particular, researchers have begun to identify genes implicated in neurodevelopmental disorders that disrupt speech and language skills. My talk will illustrate how such work can provide powerful entry points into critical neural pathways, using FOXP2 as an example. Rare mutations of this gene cause problems with learning to sequence mouth movements during speech, accompanied by wide-ranging deficits in language production and comprehension. FOXP2 encodes a regulatory protein, a hub in a network of other genes, several of which have also been associated with language-related impairments. Versions of FOXP2 are found in similar form in many vertebrate species; indeed, studies of animals and birds suggest it has conserved roles in the development and plasticity of certain sets of neural circuits. Thus, the contributions of this gene to human speech and language involve modifications of evolutionarily ancient functions. Searches for additional language-related genes are underway, taking advantage of dramatic advances in genomic methods. Overall, the FOXP2 story illustrates the value of an interdisciplinary approach for unravelling the complicated connections between genes, neurons, brain circuits and language.