Communicating without a functioning language system: Implications for the role of language in mentalizing
A debated issue in the relationship between language and thought is how our linguistic abilities are involved in understanding the intentions of others (’mentalizing’). The results of both theoretical and empirical work have been used to argue that linguistic, and more specifically, grammatical, abilities are crucial in representing the mental states of others. Here we contribute to this debate by investigating how damage to the language system influences the generation and understanding of intentional communicative behaviors. Four patients with pervasive language difficulties (severe global or agrammatic aphasia) engaged in an experimentally controlled non-verbal communication paradigm, which required signaling and understanding a communicative message. Despite their profound language problems they were able to engage in recipient design as well as intention recognition, showing similar indicators of mentalizing as have been observed in the neurologically healthy population. Our results show that aspects of the ability to communicate remain present even when core capacities of the language system are dysfunctional.