Call for Papers

International conference Atylang

Atypical language: what are we really talking about?

27-28 November 2015
Laboratoire MODYCO UMR 7114 – CNRS & Université Paris Ouest Nanterre la Défense

The term atypical, which is used in everyday language to refer to specific and unclassifiable behavior, has also recently started to emerge in research, well beyond the clinical setting and the field of language development. The notion of atypical language is increasingly encountered within the field of linguistics without however being clearly defined. Among numerous individual variations, certain language behaviors intrigue researchers by their “atypicality” and are thus characterized as unusual. But atypical language, which can involve all levels of a linguistic system, from minimal to maximal items, may sometimes reveal a pathological dimension in language use, in which real difficulties, deficits and disorders are present. While it is not always easy to differentiate individual and unusual variation from genuine language disorders, it is important to establish this distinction in view of the fundamental and crucial role that language plays in social interaction at different ages across the lifespan.
We are thus faced with a paradoxical situation, which, despite its stimulating character, challenges both research and practice. A single notion, at the crossroads of different disciplines, fields and specializations, concerned with fundamental research, applied research and clinical reality is used with different definitions. This raises the question as to what we are basically talking about. Is it possible to identify a concept, a common denominator,  that unites the different uses of “atypical” between clearly distinct domains? If so, what is this common concept?

Thus, the underlying question of the Atylang conference on clinical linguistics is as follows: how can we move from the intuitive use of the term Atypical language towards a usage based on an explicit and well thought out definition, which allows us to create a consensus on how to problematize the issue, while avoiding, from the outset, limiting it solely to the field of dysfunctions and handicap? More specifically:

  • At what moment is there a change from a singular, strange and unusual language behavior to a pathological one?  And how can we distinguish a short-term atypical phenomenon from a chronic and established dysfunctional one? Thus, from a developmental viewpoint, how can we characterize and distinguish atypical development from an atypical delay and an apparent specific disorder? As regards ageing, what observable evidence can be found to identify atypical constructions that not only appear as simple markers, inevitably associated  to ageing, but turn into clear indicators of pathological ageing?
  • What references should the arguments that underpin and justify the scientific use of the term atypical be based on: the community in which atypical language may occur (family or school environment), the developmental theories suggested in research, clinical practice? What precise indicators and measures can be applied?
  • What is the status of the observer (individual vs. collective, expert vs. non expert, researcher and/or clinician), and, as a result, what are his/her expectations and integrated norms (or observed usage)? Finally, to what extent do phenomena that are considered atypical and specific in one context appear as perfectly natural in another?

Taking these questions as a starting point, the purpose of the Atylang conference is to provide points of reference for practitioners, allowing them to approach the notion of atypical language in a reflective and problematizing manner. A second aim is to provide the opportunity for researchers to benefit from feedback based on actual fieldwork, thus enabling them to explore the continuum covered by this notion, to determine its scope, limits and interest for scientific description.

In practice, this conference aims at including simultaneously the issue of so-called atypical uses and the linguistic markers that account for them. In other words, the focus is on the formal and communicative dimension of the central issue. We welcome papers on 10 major non-exclusive domains, both from clinical experience on the field and from research:

  1. Developmental and ageing language use
  2. Oral and/or written language
  3. Vocal language and sign language
  4. Gestures and multimodality
  5. Atypical Language at the structural vs. the pragmatic level
  6. Developmental versus acquired disorders
  7. Diagnosis and remediation
  8. Family support (development, ageing)
  9. Delay versus deviance / disorder
  10. Atypical language in monolinguals and bilinguals


Languages: French, English and French Sign Language (LSF)