The Mind of a Savant: Language, Learning and Modularity / Edition 1

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Savants are people who are mentally and often physically impaired but who have one dazzling talent. Cases of savants, like Christopher who is described here, are not unheard of, but have never been reported before. Despite being unable to look after himself because he has difficulty with everyday tasks, Christopher can read, write, translate and communicate in fifteen to twenty different languages.

In this original, detailed and wide-ranging study, Neil Smith and Ianthi-Maria Tsimpli not only provide insight into the mind of one unique individual, but simultaneously cast light on the nature of language and thought in general. By exploiting recent developments in both linguistics and psychology the authors have made an essential contribution to the whole field of cognitive science.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This is a very interesting book that any linguist, cognitive scientist or philosopher of mind will love to read." Luca Bonatti, University of Paris VIII at St Denis

"Even for those who don't share the authors' nativist inclinations, Smith and Tsimpli's in-depth case study raises some fascinating issues about the relation between cognition and language. Essential reading for all cognitive scientists." Annette Karmiloff-Smith, Medical Research Council

"In their fine and careful study of an individual with remarkable linguistic abilities but otherwise limited capabilities, Smith and Tsimpli provide new and important evidence concerning the modularity of mind, invariant principles of language, and their role in first and second language acquisition, the interaction of pragmatic and conceptual factors in language use, and much else. It is a very valuable and illuminating study." Chomsky, MIT

"This book, with its focus on understanding the architecture of the mind, makes an important contribution to psycholinguistics and the broader field of cognitive science......Like other great case studies, their attempts to elucidate the architecture of the mind by studying a single, unique individual are noteworthy."Victoria Garlock and Elaina Frieda, University of Alabama

Savants are people who are mentally and often physically impaired but who have one dazzling talent. The authors describe one such individual, Christopher, who, despite being unable to take care of himself because he has difficulty with everyday tasks that most people take for granted, can read, write, translate, and communicate in 15 to 20 different languages. Beyond illuminating the mind of one unique individual, the authors, both linguists, also cast light on the nature of language and thought in general. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780631190172
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 2/27/1995
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 268
  • Sales rank: 1,035,409
  • Product dimensions: 5.91 (w) x 9.84 (h) x 0.59 (d)

Meet the Author

Neil Smith and Ianthi-Maria Tsimpli teach linguistics at University College, London, and the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne, repectively. Neil Smith is author of The Twitter Machine: Reflections on Language, also published by Blackwell Publishers.

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Table of Contents

List of Figures.



1. Language and Intelligence:.

Introducing Christopher.

Theoretical Background.


2. The First Language:.






3. 'Second' Languages:.


Background Information.

The lexicon.



4. New Languages: .


Controlled input: Berber.

Learning an Impossible Language: Epun.


5. Language and Mind:.

Christopher's Translation.

A model of the mind.

Theory of mind and meta-representation.

Summary and conclusions.






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