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The application of the techniques of modem molecular biology to the study of the genetic control of language development poses many significant challenges. Because language is a complex function, disruption of any of a number of systems can impair language development. The diagnostic classification of specific language impairment includes individuals with an apparently inherited form of disordered language development, and therefore some aspects of this clinical phenotype may be useful for positional cloning studies of genes related to language. Known genetic disorders with specific deficits in language functions may also serve to identify candidate genes for language development. In addition to these specific approaches, the current general strategies for positional cloning and candidate gene studies are reviewed.