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June 26, 1996

Linguistic Ability in Early Life and Alzheimer Disease in Late Life

Author Affiliations

Kaiser Foundation Hospitals Portland, Ore

JAMA. 1996;275(24):1879. doi:10.1001/jama.1996.03530480021020

To the Editor.  —As an editor at a research institution, I doubted that scientists such as Dr Snowdon and colleagues1 could recognize high linguistic ability when they saw it. Bias aside, however, I detect certain misconceptions in the article about the nature of linguistic ability. Specifically, I would question their measures of high linguistic ability—grammatical complexity and density of ideas. In my experience, these qualities in a sample of writing reflect either a deliberate attempt to conceal one's meaning or, more commonly, sloppy thinking and poor writing skills.What the findings fail to take into account is the distinction between reading and writing. As the authors note, psycholinguists originally developed these measures of linguistic ability to categorize texts according to how difficult they are to read and understand. The capacity to comprehend writing characterized by grammatical complexity and density of ideas may indeed reflect a high linguistic ability. However,