child with electrode cap

Project: Language processing: domain general or domain specific? ERP studies of verbal and visual language processing in children with typical and atypical language development

By comparing processing of auditory and visual language (comic strips) with ERPs in children with typical development and with developmental language disorder (DLD), we seek to investigate if DLD is a domain specific or domain general disorder. Our hypothesis is that children with DLD have similar atypical processing of structure (syntax) in both domains.

Project information

Project manager
Annika Andersson
Other project members
Kristina Hansson, Lund University, Sweden; Eric Pakulak, Stockholm University, Sweden; Neil Cohn, Tilburg University, the Netherlands; John Drury, Jiangsu Normal University, China
Participating organizations
Linnaeus University; Lund University, Sweden
Marcus and Amalia Wallenberg Foundation (Stiftelsen Marcus och Amalia Wallenbergs Minnesfond)
1 July 2020–30 June 2024
Swedish (Department Swedish, Faculty of Arts and Humanities)

More about the project

Proficiency in our languages is a major predictor of how well we do socially and how we succeed academically. Both language acquisition (first and second) and processing of language have been described and researched behaviourally as well as neurologically. Yet we don’t know whether language processing is domain specific or domain general.

The main aim of the project is therefore to address this question. To investigate the domain generality of language processing we will apply two research paradigms: one verbal using auditorily presented sentences and one visual using comic strips.

During these paradigms, event-related potentials (ERPs) will be recorded. This neurophysiological measure enables us to measure processing millisecond by millisecond online as it unfolds. Similar manipulations of structure within verbal and visual language will allow for comparison between ERP effects indicating if children, as adults (Cohn, et al., 2014), process verbal and visual language similarly.

We propose to study neurophysiological processing of verbal and visual language within and between two groups: children with typical language development (TD) and children with developmental language disorder (DLD). Previous ERP studies of verbal language processing in these groups have suggested children with DLD rely on other neural generators to process language than do children with TD.

An investigation of whether children with DLD have similar atypical processing of visual language as with verbal language could affect our understanding of DLD. Better knowledge of whether language is processed in a domain general manner, or qualitatively differently from other procedural or semantic skills, could have implications for how languages are taught and how interventions are designed to support those with atypical language acquisition or processing (e.g., second language acquisition and DLD). The results from this study could have impact on both the general population and specific populations.

This project is part of the research in the Linnaeus University Language Processing Lab (LiLa Lab) and features a doctoral student project.