Monday, August 17, 2009

Asperger's, Empathy and Language Learning

As a quick follow-up to my earlier posts on Daniel Tammet and empathy in language learning, the connection between autism and language-learning ability augurs against a connection between empathy and language learning. According to Cambridge neuroscientist Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen (at 10:40 in the video):
Autism is a spectrum of medical conditions where people have a lot of difficulty in forming social relationships and in putting themselves in other people's shoes, to imagine other people's thoughts and feelings.
Or, in other words, they struggle with being empathetic.

But, still, autistic people demonstrate language-learning skill:
Tammet’s particular developmental disorder is Asperger’s syndrome, a mild, high-functioning form of autism. … People with Asperger’s often have normal to high IQs and good language and learning ability.
While this certainly doesn't prove anything definitively regarding empathy and language learning, and it doesn't address directly the issue of accents that was at issue previously, it does raise another question mark about just how important empathy really is in language learning.

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