9.56J | Fall 2004 | Undergraduate

Abnormal Language


Syntax Problem Set (PDF)

Note that these problems are not meant to be “tricky” but to help you learn, to let you test your understanding. Answers should be given in a fairly brief manner; no extra points for extra words. Clarity and correctness is most important. We are happy with and encourage working in groups, but all exercises must be written in your own words (no copying or group submissions). As always, note anyone with whom you work.

Term Paper (PDF)

The paper should represent an opportunity for you to read outside of the class material and gain a deeper understanding of abnormal language. The end result should be a paper that contributes something novel to the field. That is, we are not looking for literature reviews alone. While the papers should review what is known in the relevant area, we are looking for critical analysis and theory generation. All papers should offer a critique of the relevant literature and attempt to unify disparate results, proposing how theories could be tested and what types of results would help in deciding between competing alternatives. We can imagine papers in the following four styles, but are open to other ideas.

  1. Further Areas

    Due to time constraints, we were not able to discuss many other areas of abnormal language. You may review what is known in one such area, and propose a theory to account for the data if enough data is available. If relevant data is lacking, you may propose a research program outlining how such data might be acquired. Based on what is known, make predictions about what linguistic problems should be expected. Some areas to consider include: 

    • Language savants
    • Cerebellar patients
    • Left-handed individuals (i.e. RH language)
    • Late-talkers
    • Individuals with low IQ
    • Demented patients (e.g. Alzheimer’s)
  2. Linguistic Inquiry 

    The course focuses on three areas of grammatical knowledge: finiteness, binding theory, and A-movement. While these areas have been the best studied, other areas have also been probed. Papers reviewing problems with other linguistic phenomena in a single abnormal population would be acceptable. In addition to reviewing what is known about the linguistic phenomena in the population of interest, ties should be made to whether these data match or refute existing theories of the disorder. A good place to start would be to review what is known about the linguistic phenomenon in L1. Some areas to consider include: 

    • Determiners
    • Null subjects
    • Individual vs. stage level predicates
    • Unaccusativity
    • Clitics
    • Inversion
  3. Biology 

    Can any strong claims be made about the localization of linguistic knowledge in the brain? A review of the neuroimaging literature, patient literature, and material discussed in the course, leading to specific claims about the linguistic processes carried out by a certain area of the brain would be acceptable. Such a paper should review what is known about the candidate area with respect to language processing, propose a theory of what role the area plays in such computations, and include ideas about what data should be sought to help determine the validity of the theory. Some areas to consider include: 

    • Basal ganglia
    • Broca’s area (LH)
    • Broca’s area homologue (RH)
    • Cerebellum
  4. Childes 

    For those interested in conducting their own research, and especially for those who speak another language, you might consider undertaking an analysis of natural production data. A paper in this area would require examining speech transcripts for evidence of certain linguistic phenomena. Predictions should be made based on the material discussed in the course. The relationship of the predictions to the data should be thoroughly discussed. The CHILDES database (Child Language Date Exchange System (PDF)) contains transcript files for the following languages and disorders. 

    • Castillian (SLI)
    • Dutch (SLI, DS, hearing impaired)
    • English (SLI, perinatal brain injury- twins, autism, DS, cocaine, WS)
    • French (SLI)
    • Hebrew (Fragile X)
    • Spanish (SLI, WS)
  5. Other 

    If you have another idea for a paper, please come see us soon. 


    • Undergraduates: 10-12 pages + references
    • Graduates: 15-18 pages + references

Double-spaced, Times New Roman, 12 point font, 1" margins

Course Info

Learning Resource Types
Written Assignments
Problem Sets