The Signs of a Savant: Language Against the Odds

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Every once in a while nature gives us insight into the human condition by providing us with a unique case whose special properties illuminate the species as a whole. Christopher is such an example. Despite disabilities which mean that everyday tasks are burdensome chores, Christopher is a linguistic wonder who can read, write, speak, understand and translate more than twenty languages. On some tests he shows a severely low IQ, hinting at ineducability, yet his English language ability indicates an IQ in excess of 120 (a level more than sufficient to enter university). Christopher is a savant, someone with an island of startling talent in a sea of inability. This book documents his learning of British Sign Language, casting light on the modularity of cognition, the modality neutrality of the language faculty, the structure of memory, the grammar of signed language and the nature of the human mind.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This fascinating case study of a linguistic savant offers important insights into how developmental disorders may affect acquisition of sign." Richard P. Meier, University of Texas, Austin

"This penetrating study of a unique mind provides rich and original insight into cognitive architecture and sign and spoken language." Noam Chomsky, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

"The Signs of a Savant is a fascinating, extended case study of one individual whose name is Christopher (henceforth referred to as C.) ...offers penetrating insights into our understanding of the language faculty, theories of modularity, the structure of memory, as well as the structure of sign languages. This is a book for anyone interested in languages or the mind more generally. It was fortunate that the authors had contact with C. over such a long period of time so that they could share with us this detailed picture of an extremely interesting case of a language savant. Moreover, it is engagingly written, even as it is packed with detailed information. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in memory, atypical learners, sign language, or cognition." --Linguist List,

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521852272
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 12/31/2010
  • Pages: 232
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Neil Smith is Professor Emeritus of Linguistics at University College London.

Ianthi Tsimpli is Professor of Psycholinguistics at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.

Gary Morgan is Professor of Psychology at City University, London.

Bencie Woll is Director of the Centre for Deafness Cognition and Language at University College London.

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Table of Contents

1. Introducing Christopher; 2. BSL: an overview; 3. The programme; 4. The results; 5. Christopher in the wider context; 6. Modality and the mind.
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