Cognition and language are intimately connected. How dementia is manifested in language is a matter of intense research around the world by neuropsychologists, linguists and more recently, by specialists in artificial intelligence who comb through language data for telltale signs of cognitive impairment. Formulaic expressions, word recall, propositional density are among the linguistic features that have been investigated in relation to cognitive impairment.
The project takes a structural approach to study the language of early cognitive impairment. We know that in the normal population structurally complex sentences require more cognitive resources to process. The onset of cognitive decline may cause a parallel decline in the ability to process complex structures, resulting in language deficits that solidify as the disease progresses. Using natural speech data collected from volunteers who participated in the Community Health Intergenerational (CHI) study at the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, the project will search for linguistic markers of dementia. Early results from a small-scale pilot study are promising, but more work is needed in understanding the linguistics of dementia.