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Autistic Savants

  Tags: Autism | Savant | Polyglot
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Midnight
Diglot
Groupie
Czech Republic
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54 posts - 111 votes 
Speaks: Czech*, English

 
 Message 17 of 35
27 March 2012 at 9:06pm | IP Logged 
The funny thing is, that some of these guys learn the pi to thousand places, but are not interested in languages at all. Another fact is that people with photographic memory may remember pages from the language workbooks, but can't understand the grammar and they repeat their mistakes over and over even after being corrected.
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Splog
Diglot
Senior Member
Czech Republic
anthonylauder.c
Joined 4143 days ago

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Studies: Mandarin

 
 Message 18 of 35
27 March 2012 at 9:54pm | IP Logged 
Midnight wrote:
The funny thing is, that some of these guys learn the pi to thousand places, but are not interested in languages at all. Another fact is that people with photographic memory may remember pages from the language workbooks, but can't understand the grammar and they repeat their mistakes over and over even after being corrected.


Three points:

Firstly, there are no cases of photographic memory. The closest have been cases of people who remember their own lives in minute detail. Researchers have found them to be obsessive about recounting their past (often keeping very detailed diaries, and replaying their lives in their minds constantly). Their memory is not "photographic" however, since they often "fill in the gaps" with imaginary details fro things they did not have in their diaries.

Secondly, learning PI to thousands of places is a memory trick. There is nothing "savant like" about it. It also uses numeric-association strategies that are irrelevant to language learning. In fact, one of the big downsides of memorization tricks is that they look impressive, but tend not to be helpful in "real life".

Thirdly, there are no known cases of language savants. Instead, there are a few cases of people who are severely mentally disabled, who show ordinary abilities with language and we are struck by the fact that they have remained "normal" in one area.
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Michael K.
Senior Member
United States
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 Message 19 of 35
28 March 2012 at 12:08am | IP Logged 
Splog wrote:
Thirdly, there are no known cases of language savants. Instead, there are a few cases of people who are severely mentally disabled, who show ordinary abilities with language and we are struck by the fact that they have remained "normal" in one area.


Then how do you explain Daniel Tammet or Christopher Taylor? Tammet has been called (by whom, I don't know) a prodigous autistic savant. It depends on who gives him this label, of course, but it seems someone thinks he's special.

Taylor is severely brain damaged, and I won't argue whether or not his language learning capability is normal or not, but "normal" people don't learn two dozen languages just for the lulz. He more or less just puts foreign words into English sentences (according to "Babel no More"), but he can do this in several languages, which isn't bad at all for a man who can't even take care of himself and needs to live in a group home to survive.
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Splog
Diglot
Senior Member
Czech Republic
anthonylauder.c
Joined 4143 days ago

1062 posts - 3263 votes 
Speaks: English*, Czech
Studies: Mandarin

 
 Message 20 of 35
28 March 2012 at 8:29am | IP Logged 
Michael K. wrote:
Splog wrote:
Thirdly, there are no known cases of language savants. Instead, there are a few cases of people who are severely mentally disabled, who show ordinary abilities with language and we are struck by the fact that they have remained "normal" in one area.


Then how do you explain Daniel Tammet or Christopher Taylor? Tammet has been called (by whom, I don't know) a prodigous autistic savant. It depends on who gives him this label, of course, but it seems someone thinks he's special.

Taylor is severely brain damaged, and I won't argue whether or not his language learning capability is normal or not, but "normal" people don't learn two dozen languages just for the lulz. He more or less just puts foreign words into English sentences (according to "Babel no More"), but he can do this in several languages, which isn't bad at all for a man who can't even take care of himself and needs to live in a group home to survive.


There is strong evidence that Daniel Tammet is a fraud. Search this forum for other threads on the topic. However, the short story is that he is not a savant (Cambridge university scanned his brain and found it to be perfectly normal), he also used to participate in world memory championships using standard memory techniques (even working as a memory coach). Only in recent years did he reinvent his story to claim it is down to being a savant.

In terms of Christopher Taylor, he CANNOT speak dozens of languages. He has learned to, for example, read newspaper headlines and learn scattered words in a number of languages. We may marvel at this ability compared to his severe mental problems in other areas, but as far as I understand he is below A1 in all his languages.
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eggcluck
Senior Member
China
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168 posts - 277 votes 
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 Message 21 of 35
28 March 2012 at 12:34pm | IP Logged 
Just to add some info the the claims of Daniel Tammet not being so genuine, is that a few months ago ( the link eludes my memory) in my search to improve my memory I came across a forum dedicated to memory in the same format as this one.

Seems there was a thread where they used it as a game to recognise and point out all the memory techniques used by Daneil to help his current image. Seems these guys managed to recognise a lot of formal memory techiques simply from observing videos of him, and viewing his "paintings".

I have also read the studies, claiming him as a savant, to be honest. I have no idea how anyone with a mind on the scientifical side would have taken these studies seriously.

EDIT: However that said if he is indeed is a fraud and quite normal, then it is quite encouragin to see that at least in a small way there are memory techiques that can be used to aid the process of learning a language.

Edited by eggcluck on 28 March 2012 at 12:38pm

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Michael K.
Senior Member
United States
Joined 4203 days ago

568 posts - 886 votes 
Speaks: English*
Studies: Spanish, Esperanto

 
 Message 22 of 35
28 March 2012 at 1:19pm | IP Logged 
Thanks, Splog.

Did you watch the video on Taylor I posted on the last page? They say that language savants are rare, but aren't unknown. In "Babel no More" there is a section that most autistic savants are gifted with understanding machinery or other more concrete skills, but occassionally there are some language savants. The narrator in the Taylor video says Taylor reaches university levels of acheivement in languages, so again, there is something special about him, and I don't think he'd get much attention if he only spoke his languages at an A1 level, whether he has severe developmental disabilities or not.

That's too bad Tammet is a fraud.

Edited by Michael K. on 28 March 2012 at 1:21pm

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Iversen
Super Polyglot
Moderator
Denmark
berejst.dk
Joined 5177 days ago

9078 posts - 16471 votes 
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 Message 23 of 35
28 March 2012 at 3:26pm | IP Logged 
There is a discussion of a young savant named Cristopher and his understanding of Modern Greek and Spanish here. Another (extremely detailed) article about a savant C(hristopher) here - given the scarcity of savants with an interest in languages it is hard to believe that it isn't the same person.

Christopher Taylor doesn't show extraordinary skills in the videos I have seen, but I'll admit that he does so in a fair number of languages. His most unusual feat seems actually to be reading newspaper headlines upside down, and for a man in his condition it is remarkable that he knows something about foreign languages at all. But claiming that he "reaches university levels of acheivement in languages" is bad journalism.

I have tried to locate a paper about another savant only identified by his initials, who was studied by a lingvist with a keen interest in transformational grammar. However I have so far not been able to locate it.

Edited by Iversen on 30 March 2012 at 12:30pm

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schoenewaelder
Diglot
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Germany
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 Message 24 of 35
29 March 2012 at 4:20pm | IP Logged 
Iversen wrote:
But claiming that he "reaches university levels of acheivement in languages" is bad journalism.


Given that it's a British source, it's hard to say whether it's journalistic hyperbole, or a reflection of the current decline in academic standards.

These days anyone who actually goes to school is usually described in the press as "an outstanding straight-As student". I really miss the good old days of British Understatement.

Edited by schoenewaelder on 29 March 2012 at 5:09pm



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