The final talk in the Language Science Talks! Gold Medal Speaker Series lectures will take place on Tuesday, March 28 at 3:30 pm in the Beaty Biodiversity Museum (2212 Main Mall). Dr. Simon E. Fisher (Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics/Donders Brain and Language Institute) will be speaking on “A molecular genetic perspective on speech and language” (abstract below). If you’re unable to make it to the talk in person at the UBC-V campus, you can join the group watching the livestream at UBC-O (room 386 in the Arts building), or watch it online (live or after the fact) via this link. To RSVP for this talk, click here.
Abstract: The rise of molecular technologies has yielded exciting new routes for studying the biological foundations of language. In particular, researchers have begun to identify genes implicated in neurodevelopmental disorders that disrupt speech and language skills. My talk will illustrate how such work can provide powerful entry points into critical neural pathways, using FOXP2 as an example. Rare mutations of this gene cause problems with learning to sequence mouth movements during speech, accompanied by wide-ranging deficits in language production and comprehension. FOXP2 encodes a regulatory protein, a hub in a network of other genes, several of which have also been associated with language-related impairments. Versions of FOXP2 are found in similar form in many vertebrate species; indeed, studies of animals and birds suggest it has conserved roles in the development and plasticity of certain sets of neural circuits. Thus, the contributions of this gene to human speech and language involve modifications of evolutionarily ancient functions. Searches for additional language-related genes are underway, taking advantage of dramatic advances in genomic methods. Overall, the FOXP2 story illustrates the value of an interdisciplinary approach for unravelling the complicated connections between genes, neurons, brain circuits and language.