Andrea Zukowski
1401 Marie Mount Hall
Linguistics Department
University of Maryland
College Park, MD 20782
(301) 405-5388

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I work in the Cognitive Neuroscience of Language Lab, which is part of the Linguistics Dept. at the U. of Maryland, College Park.

In my work, I examine fundamental questions about the human language faculty—for example:

  • How does mental retardation affect the ability to acquire a language?
  • How does mental retardation affect the ability to implement whatever competence has been achieved in speaking and comprehending?
  • What does the answer mean for the issues of modularity of language and/or language innateness?

I address these questions by examining the language abilities of a group of people who have a genetic disorder called Williams syndrome. The gene deletions responsible for Williams syndrome (a sequence of contiguous genes on the long arm of chromosome 7) result in a wide range of cardiovascular, endocrine, renal, and cognitive outcomes.

Of particular interest are some startling differences within the cognitive domain. In particular, spatial cognitive abilities and number abilities are notoriously poor, while language abilities are quite good. The apparent sparing of language abilities in the face of other cognitive deficits provides a stark contrast to the picture from other syndromes with comparable levels of overall cognitive deficit (e.g. Down Syndrome).

In my research, which is partially funded by a grant from the NICHD (2003-2004), I design language tasks that tap a wide range of language abilities (syntactic, morphological, and semantic). The tasks are designed so that children cannot perform well without sophisticated linguistic knowledge, and great care is taken to remove extraneous cognitive demands that might mask underlying linguistic competence. These steps will ensure that the data upon which we base our answers to the above questions will be solid.