Unifying cognitive and biological approaches to language
Language is a defining element of human experience. However, the scientific understanding of language is in its infancy. We have yet to understand the genetic and neurobiological foundations of language development, the mechanisms that allow humans to achieve robust, adaptive perception across human experience incredible variation in signal and environment, the biological, environmental, and experiential factors that support or disrupt language development, or the nature and limits of plasticity evident in linguistic recovery from acquired disorders, such as traumatic brain injury. This basic-science understanding has the potential to address many societal challenges, including technological, educational, and clinical challenges. Achieving this understanding will require new methods and theoretical frameworks, and tools and knowledge of familiar cognitive-level approaches to language d molecular neuroscience. Enormous challenges must be overcome before a synthesis of these fields can be achieved: scientists must be able to communicate across disciplinary boundaries before they can collaborate; new methods and theories are required for cognitive-level domains to grapple with systematic individual differences; new methods and theories are required for all disciplines to grapple with the complex genetic, neural, cognitive, and environmental interactions on which language development depends; and a unifying theoretical framework is required to link cognitive and biological approaches to language.
Our Neurobiology of Language (NBL) training program is inspired by the realization that the necessary disciplinary elements for this synthesis have recently emerged, and that we have the necessary personnel, expertise, and theoretical vision at UConn and Haskins Labs to achieve it. We have assembled a team of faculty from 7 Ph.D. programs (Linguistics; Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences; Physiology & Neurobiology; and 4 programs in Psychology: Behavioral Neuroscience, Clinical Psychology, Developmental Psychology and Perception-Action-Cognition) and Haskins Labs with the necessary skills and methods needed to launch a new cognitive-biological synthesis approach to language. The missing element is a formal training program, and a critical mass of trainees eager to participate in this pioneering endeavor.
Our NBL program provides Ph.D. students from cognitive and biological disciplines with a core of five “Foundations” courses that given them sufficient familiarity with methods, assumptions, theories, and terminology from each participating domain, preparing them to work in collaborative teams who (a) can communicate across conventional disciplinary boundaries and (b) collectively have the sufficient breadth and depth to develop unified biological-cognitive approaches to language development. Home-department curricula, NBL electives, and international interships at research centers with cutting-edge technology prepare NBL trainees to become leaders within their fields, as well as in the emerging unification of biological and cognitive approaches to understanding language development.