Research on Language Development and Mental Retardation: History, Theories, Findings, and Future Directions*

Leonard J Abbeduto, Yolanda Keller-Bell, Erica Kesin Richmond, Melissa M. Murphy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


In this chapter, we briefly review some of the theoretical shifts and most important findings to emerge in the study of language development in individuals with mental retardation since the inception of the Gatlinburg Conference on Mental Retardation Research and Theory in 1968. This period corresponds to an especially vibrant era of research on language and mental retardation, and one that has been shaped in profound ways by the nativist theory espoused first by Noam Chomsky (1965) and later by Fodor (1983), Pinker (1996), and others. Research on language development among those with mental retardation has not only been shaped by nativist theory but this research has also yielded data that have proven important for evaluating the merits of the theory, as in the case of research on Williams syndrome (Bellugi, Lai, & Wang, 1997). In our review, we have by necessity been selective, focusing largely on those concerns and findings that have been motivated by, or are relevant to, the claims of nativist theory or the alternative theories that have risen in prominence in recent years. The alternatives we consider are the social-interactionist (Bruner, 1983) and emergentist (MacWhinney, 1999) approaches, which grew out of work in typical child development and cognitive science, respectively, and the genetic syndromes approach (Hodapp & Dykens, 1994), which emerged from work within the field of mental retardation. Our goal is to provide a brief history of research on language and mental retardation, demonstrate the bidirectional relationships between that research and the dominant theoretical approaches of our time, and outline future directions for research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-39
Number of pages39
JournalInternational Review of Research in Mental Retardation
StatePublished - 2006
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


Dive into the research topics of 'Research on Language Development and Mental Retardation: History, Theories, Findings, and Future Directions*'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this