This program seeks a unified explanation for these production-comprehension asymmetries. It tests the hypothesis that the grammar is an asymmetrical system of constraints on form and meaning. Hence, production may yield other results than comprehension. Mature language users have learned to integrate the two directions of language use by taking into account their conversational partner's options as well. This results in a symmetrical matching between forms and meanings. The ability to consider other people's options in communication may be limited in children and impaired in autistic individuals. The proposed program thus explores a novel view on the organization of the grammar. It models the way children produce and comprehend utterances, and the way adults consider their conversational partner's perspective in communication. Psycholinguistic experiments are conducted which test this model by studying production and comprehension in the same subjects. These experiments will reveal which part of our mature linguistic competence arises from the grammar, and which part arises from implicit reasoning about our conversational partner's options.
In collaboration with Dr. Catharina Hartman and Prof. Ruud Minderaa of Accare, the program will also apply these new linguistic insights to the field of autism and may improve the diagnosis and treatment of the language deficits within autistic spectrum disorders (ASD), which are still poorly understood.
"Here you see an elephant and an alligator. Does the elephant hit him?" Many children say 'yes' in response to the righthand picture too (drawings by Robbert Prins).