Conference on sources of individual linguistic differences| University of Ottawa | March 2-4, 2011 | Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

© Richard J. Dagan 2010

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This conference will explore all sources of individual differences in linguistic competence and performance, paying special attention to the role of traits associated with Autism Spectrum Disorders, of which classic Autism and Asperger's Syndrome are the clearest subgroups, and how the study of autistic and autistic-like traits can inform and be informed by the scientific study of language. While the study of linguistic variation is often treated as synonymous with sociolinguistic variation, comparatively less attention has been paid to variation that is due to individual cognitive processing styles, physiological differences, and other factors. Idiosyncratic variation provides an opportunity to understand the limits and flexibility of the human capacity for language, and to better understand the observed properties of natural languages, which are systems that must be shared by individuals who differ from each other in important ways.

While linguists have long maintained that individuals with diverse cognitive and physiological abilities typically achieve the same level of linguistic competence as unimpaired speakers, individuals with different processing styles or physiological configurations do not necessarily achieve and exert this competence in the same ways. Similarly, while traditional linguistic models have attributed this parity to the role of a specialized language faculty, more recent work has suggested the coexistence of multiple processing strategies, such as abstract and detailed representations for the same linguistic objects. Variation between individuals has the potential to highlight the importance of different ways of processing language. While there is a long history of exploring the clinical range of cognitive and physiological differences, a better understanding of the linguistic implications of the non-clinical ranges of these factors have the potential to inform linguistic theory by showing the range of processing styles that the human capacity for language allows.

Variability that is related to the Autism Spectrum is of special interest to this conference, but we also appeal for studies of interspeaker variability in other domains. For the same reasons that research on different forms of individual variability can inform linguistics, language provides a unique testing ground for researchers interested in cognitive and physiological variability, in part because the arbitrariness and redundancy of language allow different speakers to perform linguistic tasks in different ways.

The goal of this conference is to bring together researchers working on the linguistic consequences of individual variation, or the sources of variation, to present their current ideas and to provide a breeding ground for cross-framework and cross-disciplinary dialogues, and to ensure that each group of researchers is exposed to the state-of-the-art in adjacent fields. We hope the conference will facilitate collaboration among linguists, speech scientists, and cognitive scientists, to seek out better explanations for the nature of linguistic deficits and enhancements in different types of people, as well as to explore how better understanding of individual variation might advance linguistic theory via the investigation of variation in the fundamental (cognitive, physiological, social, etc.) underpinnings of language.

Organization Committee