Perspectives on the rhythm–grammar link and its implications for typical and atypical language development


This paper reviews the mounting evidence for shared cognitive mechanisms and neural resources for rhythm and grammar. Evidence for a role of rhythm skills in language development and language comprehension is reviewed here in three lines of research: (1) behavioral and brain data from adults and children, showing that prosody and other aspects of timing of sentences influence online morpho-syntactic processing; (2) comorbidity of impaired rhythm with grammatical deficits in children with language impairment; and (3) our recent work showing a strong positive association between rhythm perception skills and expressive grammatical skills in young school-age children with typical development. Our preliminary follow-up study presented here revealed that musical rhythm perception predicted variance in 6-year-old children's production of complex syntax, as well as online reorganization of grammatical information (transformation); these data provide an additional perspective on the hierarchical relations potentially shared by rhythm and grammar. A theoretical framework for shared cognitive resources for the role of rhythm in perceiving and learning grammatical structure is elaborated on in light of potential implications for using rhythm-emphasized musical training to improve language skills in children.