I was awarded the Polonsky Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute in 2013, after completing a Ph.D. in philosophy at Emory University in May 2012. I also have a master’s degree in
philosophy from Tel-Aviv University where I was a student at The Adi Lautman Interdisciplinary Program for Outstanding Students.
My work lies at the intersection between philosophy of language and empirical research on developmental disabilities, such as autism spectrum disorder and Williams syndrome, particularly their influence on language and communication. My choice to concentrate on language and communication disorders reflects my interest in non-typical language users – people who use alternative means of communication because they have difficulties using spoken language, or people who use spoken language in irregular ways. Contrary to the common approach in philosophy of language, which concentrates almost exclusively on spoken language and typical speakers, I believe that ‘borderline’ language users and communicators hold an important key to understanding how language works and develops, precisely because they challenge our intuitive ideas about language.
My main research question is what makes others recognize someone as a language user. This may seem a rather peculiar question, because we usually recognize speakers easily and instinctively, even if we don’t understand what they say (as in the case of a foreign language speaker). But this seemingly trivial experience of being immediately recognized as having something to say (regardless of how you say it) is beyond the reach of many people, whose ability to communicate and use language is questioned because of their cognitive disability, social difficulties, or unconventional appearance or behavior. People whose linguistic competence is uncertain are consequently trapped in a vicious cycle: their communication difficulties lead to an underestimation of their intellectual abilities, thereby further hindering the recognition of their efforts to communicate, and so on. As a result, they are deprived of their right for ‘speakerhood’ – the basic human right to have their voice heard, and receive an equal opportunity to develop whatever abilities they do have, in order to reach their full potential as language users and communicators.
My work addresses a range of theoretical questions related to the implications of diminished speakerhood. For example, I look at various factors that influence the ability and willingness of people to accommodate the special needs of children with disabilities in conversations; I examine how certain elements that are necessary for communication, such as communicative intent and joint attention, might be influenced by a significant imbalance in the abilities of the conversation partners; and I consider how the demand to meet a certain standard of linguistic competence compromises access to scientific and legal resources as well as treatment options (see also publication abstracts and other projects below). Ultimately, I aim to challenge the narrow understanding of language that I take to be dominant in philosophy, which virtually excludes non-typical communicators, and overlooks the important question of what constitutes a language user to begin with.
Access to justice for people with disabilities: I am co-directing a research group, at the Van Leer Jerusalem institute, that works to improve access to the legal system for people with disabilities, and advance the reception of alternative and augmentative communication methods in legal proceedings.
Expression through typing with minimally verbal children with autism: for the past few years I have been involved (as a lecturer) in a program that trains professionals in the field of autism to work with minimally verbal children and adolescents with autism, using a special method of typing, developed by Yael Cohen.