Perspectives: Autism, constructionism and nativism (Mikhail Kissine, Université Libre de Bruxelles)

(Deadline: January 15, 2021)

The Perspectives section of Language publishes invited target articles on topics of general interest to linguistics. Target articles typically have the character of an "opinion piece", and are intended to generate discussion. Shorter written responses to a target article will be published in Language in conjunction with the target article. (See lower down for instructions about how to prepare and submit a response.) The next target article is by Mikhail Kissine (Université Libre de Bruxelles), and we are currently accepting responses to this article.


Autism, constructionism and nativism

Mikhail Kissine

The aim of this paper is to provide a balanced assessment of the significance autism has for the scientific study of language. While linguistic profiles in autism vary greatly, spanning from a total absence of functional language to verbal levels within the typical range, the entire autism spectrum is robustly characterized by life-long deficits in inter-subjective communication and persistent difficulties in adopting other people's perspective. In that sense, autism constitutes a unique profile in which linguistic competence is dissociated from communication skills. Somewhat paradoxically, autism is often mentioned to underscore the importance of mind reading for language use, and of inter-subjective communication for the emergence of language. Yet, experimental studies on pragmatics in autism indicate that many pragmatic processes unfold without adopting one's conversational partner's perspective. Moreover the patterns of language acquisition and learning in autism represent a strong challenge to the central role constructionist theories assign to socio-communicative skills. Data on autism thus forces a reconsideration of the a priori conceptual boundaries on language learnability that shape the foundational debates between constructionist and nativist linguistic theories.

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Instructions for submission of responses
We are inviting commentaries up to 8,000 words in length (including references) in response to this target article. Preference will be given to shorter responses, since that allows inclusion of more responses. Commentaries should represent thoughtful perspectives that engage an issue raised by the article. Broadly negative responses are not encouraged. A discussion deepening our understanding of an issue should dominate the presentation. Commentaries are selected on the basis of whether they collectively represent an informative diversity of perspectives. Final selection of commentaries to be published with the article is at the discretion of the Editor.

Commentaries should be submitted through this portal. Please select "Perspectives (online only)" as the section of your submission, and mark the submission clearly as a response to the Kissine target article in the "Comments for the Editor" box available in the submission process. The deadline for submission of responses is January 15, 2021. You can direct any questions you have about this to the Editor.