On the Biological Foundations of Language: Recent Advances in Language Acquisition, Deterioration, and Neuroscience Begin to Converge


  • Barbara Lust Cornell University
  • Suzanne Flynn Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Janet Cohen Sherman Massachusetts General Hospital
  • Charles R. Henderson, Jr. Cornell University
  • James Gair Cornell University
  • Marc Harrison Cornell University
  • Leah Shabo Cornell University


language acquisition, language loss, brain, maturation, Prodromal Alzheimer’s Disease


In this paper, experimental results on the study of language loss in pro- dromal Alzheimer’s disease (AD) in the elderly are linked to experimen- tal results from the study of language acquisition in the child, via a tran- sitional stage of Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI). Recent brain imag- ing results from a pilot study comparing prodromal AD and normal ag- ing are reported. Both, behavioral results and their underlying neural underpinnings, identify the source of language deficits in MCI as break- down in syntax–semantics integration. These results are linked to inde- pendent discoveries regarding the ontogeny of language in the child and their neural foundations. It is suggested that these convergent results ad- vance our understanding of the true nature of maturational processes in language, allowing us to reconsider a “regression hypothesis” (e.g., Ribot 1881), wherein later acquisition predicts earliest dissolution.

Author Biographies

Barbara Lust, Cornell University

Department of Human Development

Suzanne Flynn, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Department of Linguistics and Philosophy

Janet Cohen Sherman, Massachusetts General Hospital

Psychology Assessment Clinic

Charles R. Henderson, Jr., Cornell University

Department of Human Development

James Gair, Cornell University

Department of Human Development

Marc Harrison, Cornell University

Department of Human Development

Leah Shabo, Cornell University

Department of Human Development