LINGUIST List 15.1506

Thu May 13 2004

Review: Cognitive Science: Banich & Mack (2003)

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  1. Phaedra Royle, Mind, Brain and Language: Multidisciplinary perspectives

Message 1: Mind, Brain and Language: Multidisciplinary perspectives

Date: Thu, 13 May 2004 01:34:07 -0400 (EDT)
From: Phaedra Royle <>
Subject: Mind, Brain and Language: Multidisciplinary perspectives

Banich, Marie T. & Molly Mack, ed. (2003) Mind, Brain and Language:
Multidisciplinary perspectives, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Announced at

Phaedra Royle, School of Speech Language Pathology and Audiology,
Universit� de Montr�al, Montreal, Quebec, Canada


As stated in the preface of Mind, Brain and Language (hereafter MBL),
the aim of this publication is to provide an overview of the influence
of the organization of brain structure on language and that of
language on thought. The approach is very interdisciplinary, with
contributions from the fields of anthropology, psychology, philosophy,
neuroscience, and linguistics. The book is designed to be an entry
point for researchers who are interested in cross-disciplinary
studies, but who have little knowledge of these specific fields. The
volume therefore contains chapters written by experts in their various
areas of interest, providing us with a glimpse of the
cross-disciplinary work done by others. It includes chapters stemming
from a conference on Mind, Brain and Language that was held at the
University of Illinois in 1998. It is divided into five sections. The
first, ''The emergence, Influence and Development of Language,''
focuses on language evolution, language and its effect on thought,
language perception and language acquisition. The second section,
entitled ''Models of Language and Language Processing,'' describes
linguistic and psycholinguistic models of language processing. Section
three, ''The Neurological Bases of Language,'' deals with neuroimaging
studies of language processing. In section four, ''Language Disruption
and Loss,'' developmental and acquired language disorders are
expounded, and in section five, ''Two Languages, One Brain,'' the
implications of bilingualism on language and brain organization are
addressed. I will present each chapter in turn, focusing on the main
points addressed. This will be followed by a discussion of certain
specific points that I found interesting.


Part I: The Emergence, Influence and Development of Language

1 - Language Evolution and Innateness (Philip Lieberman)

In this chapter, Lieberman discusses the evolution of the language
faculty and the modularity hypothesis, focusing on the issue of
Broca's area and its role in language processing. He rejects the idea
that language is modular and states rather that, '' can be safely
said that the Broca's-Wernicke's area theory first proposed by
Lichtheim in 1885 is wrong. [...] Neuroanatomical studies clearly show
that permanent aphasia does not occur absent subcortical damage;
victims of stroke and other trauma that results in purely cortical
damage recover, usually after a period of months (Elman et al.,
1997). In contrast, subcortical brain damage can result in permanent
linguistic deficits.'' (p.10) Lieberman documents findings in support
of his assertion, showing that the language system is a complex
neuronal network involving less traditional language areas such as the
basal ganglia, the prefrontal cortex, and areas of the primary visual
and auditory cortex in addition to Broca's and Wernicke's areas.

2 - Language, Mind and Culture: From Linguistic Relativity to 
 Representational Modularity (Giovanni Bennardo)

Bennardo reviews a study on the Linguistic Relativity paradigm (often
termed the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis). This chapter is extremely well
written. The author shows less informed readers why research on
vocabulary items (e.g., color and kinship terms) might not be the best
approach to studying the influence of language on thought. He
discusses the impact of other cognitive systems on language
structure. In particular, he presents data on the interaction of
cultural knowledge, conceptual (semantic) knowledge, and spatial

3 - The Role of Speech Perception Capacities in Early Language 
 Acquisition (Peter W. Jusczyk)

In this chapter, Jusczyk gives an overview of the research findings on
infant speech perception over the last 30 years. The focus is on
children who are still in their first year of life. Jusczyk presents
information on the attrition of the ability to perceive non-native
contrasts, the development of sensitivity to mother-tongue phonotactic
and prosodic cues, and the emerging ability to segment the sound
stream into words and eventually into phrases. The hope is that such
data will provide us with information on how the perception of
language constrains models of language acquisition.

Part II: Models of Language and Language Processing 

4 - Dissociation and Modularity: Reflections on Language and Mind 
 (Neil Smith)

In this chapter, Smith documents findings on language disorders in
support of a modular view of language in the brain. By using
dissociation data (i.e., the absence of some cognitive ability in the
presence of another one in a given individual), he sets out to show
that language is modular and can therefore be dissociated from other
cognitive processes. The debate centers on the dissociability of
language and intelligence. However, cases of people with low
intelligence and good language skills are rare. Smith argues that the
case of the polyglot savant Christopher and his extraordinary language
abilities in the absence of a normal I.Q. is evidence of this thesis.
Smith argues further that Christopher's linguistic behavior
demonstrates an ability to learn new lexical items and morphological
processes such as inflection, but an inability to acquire the syntax
of a new language. According to Smith, this suggests the possibility
of modularity within language (i.e., separate modules for at least
syntax, morphology, and lexicon).

5 - Linguistic Models (Geoffrey K. Pullum & Barbara C. Scholz)

Pullum and Scholz present a discussion of syntactic models of
language, which they term generative-enumerative (hereafter GU)
grammars. They note that GU grammars pose a problem for the theory, as
they cannot make a principled distinction between different levels of
ungrammaticality, especially in cases where structures are partially
grammatical. Another, more important, problem with GU grammars is that
it is mathematically impossible to use them to acquire ''superfinite''
grammars (i.e. grammars containing all the finite languages and at
least one infinite grammar), at least not from text. The authors
propose that the problem with linguistics modeling stems from the fact
that linguists try to model sets of expressions rather than the
expressions themselves. They propose the use of model-theoretic
grammars to overcome this problem. These models are based on GU
grammars, but do not have a set-generating component and would instead
include constraints on syntactic structures.

6 - Connectionist Modeling of Language: Examples and Implications (David 
 C. Plaut)

Plaut reviews three connectionist models of language: one each for
phonology (Plaut & Kello, 1999), morphology (Joanisse & Seidenberg,
1999), and syntax (St. John & McClelland, 1990). The main thrust of
connectionist models is to account for language processing without
cognitive specialization (or modularity). What linguists call
''rules'' are believed here to arise as a consequence of the data (or
''learning''). That is, the acquisition of the past tense in English
is not the acquisition of a symbolic structure manipulation process,
but rather the statistical strengthening of a predominant pattern that
is associated with a constant semantics. There are no morphemes in
connectionist models, only the co-occurrence of phonology and
semantics. Plaut proposes that connectionist modeling is a compelling
method for the comprehension of language processing because it can
account for the ''flexibility and productivity of human performance
through the development of internal representations that capture the
underlying structure in a domain, and because it suggests how such
representations and processes might actually be learned and carried
out by the brain.'' (p.163)

Part III: The Neurological Bases of Language 

7 - Language in Microvolts (Marta Kutas & Bernadette M. Schmitt)

Kutas and Schmitt present an overview of the electrophysiology of
language processing. They establish the time-course, localization (in
terms of scalp electrodes), and strength of the different cognitive
processes involved in language recognition and production. The primary
interest of evoked response potentials (ERPs) is that they are
extremely sensitive to the unfolding time-course of language
processing, and that this methodology is non-invasive. ERP recordings
have been proven sensitive to phonological, syntactic, and semantic
information during processing. In addition, ERP readings can be taken
without asking the participant to perform a linguistic task such as
grammaticality judgment or lexical decision, thus reducing artifacts
related to metalinguistic processing.

8 - Functional and Structural Imaging in the Study of Auditory Language 
 Processes (Robert J. Zatorre)

Zatorre reports some findings from brain imaging and neuroanatomical
studies of auditory processing in order to better qualify the
classical Broca/Wernicke (or production versus comprehension)
distinction. He reviews a number of very specific experiments whose
goal was to grasp the specific implication of different neuronal
substrates in different language processing tasks. Zatorre suggests
that Broca's area might also be implicated in the auditory
comprehension of language at the level of phonetics.

9 - Parallel Systems for Processing Language: Hemispheric 
 Complementarity in the Normal Brain (Christine Chiarello)

Chiarello discusses the question: ''one or two brains?'' which is
rarely addressed in the linguistics or even the psycholinguistic
literature although it is a hot topic in neurolinguistics and
neuro-cognition. While it is clear that, in normal left-handed white
males, the left hemisphere (LH) tends to be the superior language
processor, it can be shown that both brains carry out linguistic
functions in different but complimentary ways. Chiarello presents
studies of commissurotomized (split-brain) patients in order to
highlight differences in processing at the auditory, semantic, and
syntactic levels. She concludes that the LH is an efficient language
processor, rapidly zooming in on higher- level information in order to
process the message, while the right hemisphere (RH) tends to be more
superficial and broad in its language processing capabilities. The LH
is also faster than the RH in terms of processing time. Finally, the
LH tends to focus on specific meanings for words, while the RH
maintains alternative meanings, probably as a fallback procedure if
communication breaks down.

Part IV: Language Disruption and Loss

10 - Evidence From Language Breakdown: Implications for the Neural and 
 Functional Organization of Language (Eleanor M. Saffran)

Saffran reviews data on language breakdown following cerebral lesions
in order to extract information that reveals the functional
organization of language in the brain. This chapter focuses on three
areas of language: syntactic processing, conceptual organization
(semantics), and lexical storage and processing. Based on the data
presented, more particularly specific deficits following localized
lesions, Saffran concludes that the neural substrate is specialized in
identifiable regions of the brain for specific linguistics functions,
but that interaction nonetheless takes place between different areas
in order to produce and comprehend language.

11 - Neurocognitive Bases of Developmental Reading Disorders (Marie T. 
 Banich & Paige E. Scalf)

Banich and Scalf review three main hypotheses for the neurocognitive
basis for developmental dyslexia: disrupted phonological processing,
difficulties in temporal or perceptual processing, or a disconnection
between brain areas dedicated to reading even if these areas function
normally. They present data derived mainly from neuropsychological and
neuroanatomical research on developmental dyslexia. The authors note
that dyslexia might be the result of one or a number of possible
neuroanatomical disturbances, especially in view of the fact that
different types of developmental dyslexia exist, and therefore
different possible neurocognitive causes.

Part V: Two Languages, One Brain

12 - The Phonetic Systems of Bilinguals (Molly Mack)

Mack reviews studies of phonetics in bilinguals. She divides the
studies into three different approaches according to their
methodologies. The first is the ''monolingual-comparison'' approach,
where the bilingual's phonetic system is compared to that of the
monolingual in order to find out if the two systems differ. The
second, the ''shared-separate'' approach, tries to verify whether the
bilingual's phonological systems are shared or independent. The third
approach, which she terms the ''age-effect'' approach, investigates
more closely the effects of age of acquisition on the ability to learn
a second phonetic system. The chapter presents an extensive review of
the data and three models that have been proposed to account for
them. However, no model can yet account for all of the phenomena
observed. Mack also notes, ''very few bilinguals [...] will be found
to function at the phonetic level exactly as native monolinguals. This
is due at least in part to the inevitable influence [...] of one
system upon the other.'' My own experience as a quasi-late learner (5
years old) of French can attest to this. My English stress and
aspiration patterns have been strongly modified in favor of French

13 - Differential Use of Cerebral Mechanisms in Bilinguals (Michel 

Paradis presents an overview of his model of neurolinguistics, which
is made up of implicit linguistic competence (traditional
linguistically motivated components -- what we know but can't say) and
explicit metalinguistic knowledge (or declarative knowledge: what we
can say we know), which is at least partly responsible for some
aspects of lexical knowledge. He adds that pragmatic competence is
needed for the normal production of language. Paradis presents a
review of neurolinguistic data on language processing in bilinguals
that lends support to his model and also shows that type of
bilingualism (early vs. late) and learning style (incidental
vs. explicit) are important factors in neural organization and
representation of language(s).


The main interest in this book lies in the apparent ongoing
''discussion'' between the authors of the different chapters. Two
hypotheses are repeatedly presented throughout the book: connectionist
(i.e., non-differentiated cognitive processes) versus modular (i.e.,
specialized cognitive processes) neurocognitive organization.
Researchers from different areas present their arguments for or
against either model and refer to other chapters in the book in
support of their position. In addition, a number of the authors go the
extra mile by pointing out overlaps between their area(s) of research
and those of the other authors, and they refer to other chapters for a
more in-depth discussion of details not addressed by their own
section. This makes for a nicely integrated book, especially when we
consider that the chapters cover a number of issues from quite
disparate areas of research.

As stated in the advertisement for the book, it can be used for
readings in a graduate level course or as an introduction to areas of
interdisciplinary research for researchers who want to expand their
horizons. I was especially intrigued by recent developments in the
linguistics relativity paradigm as outlined in chapter 2 by Giovanni
Bennardo, since this is an area of linguistic research that I have not
followed closely.

A number of thoughts also arose during my readings, in particular with
respect to the discussions of the relative merits of modularity vs.
connectionism. This issue came up explicitly or implicitly in a number
of chapters. For example, in Chapter 2, Lieberman states that, since
numerous brain structures support the production of language (and not
just Broca's area, as was once thought), we cannot accept a
modularistic view of language in the brain. It is important, however,
to note that no proponent of modularity has stated that this implies
neuroanatomical localization. Strict localization is a straw man that
can easily be burned, and I believe that this type of argument against
modularity does not add to the scientific debate in any meaningful

Another ''linguistic'' fallacy that never ceases to amaze me is the
occasional characterization of linguistic models by some
psycholinguists as explicit. Some authors genuinely hold the notion
that linguistic rules are explicit (i.e., what we can say we know).
This, I think, is a gross misrepresentation of the domain of
linguistics. Even though we might explicitly formalize rules -- that
is write them out as logical structures in the form of ''in the past,
add - ed,'' or ''aspirate voiceless stops in stressed onsets,''
linguists do not generally propose that this is how a child learns
language or how we represent rules. Linguistic rules are believed to
be highly abstract and implicitly represented, as discussed by Paradis
in this book. This misrepresentation is unfortunate, since it is often
perpetuated in psycholinguistic textbooks that are not used or
reviewed by linguists. If not corrected, they propagate a notion akin
to the great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax (Pullum, 1991).


Elman, J., Bates, E., Johnson, M., Karmiloff-Smith, A., Parisi, D. &
Plunkett, K. (1997). Rethinking Innateness: A connectionist
perspective on development. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press/Bradford Books.

Joanisse, M. & Seidenberg, M. S. (1999). Impairments in brain
morphology after brain injury: A connectionist model. Proceedings of
the National Academy of Science, 96, 7592-7592.

Plaut, D. C. & Kello, C. T. (1999). The interplay of speech
comprehension and production in phonological development: A forward
modeling approach. In B. MacWhinney (Ed.), The emergence of language
(pp. 381-415). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Pullum, G. K. (1991). The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax and Other
Irreverent Essays on the Study of Language. Chicago: University of
Chicago Press.

St. John, M. F. & McClelland, J. L. (1990). Learning and applying
contextual constraints in sentence comprehension. Artificial
Intelligence, 46, 217-257.


Phaedra Royle holds a Ph.D. in Linguistics from the Universit� de
Montr�al. Her interests lie in psycholinguistics, language disorders
(Specific Language Impairment), language acquisition and morphology.
Her thesis investigated lexical access in language-impaired French-
speaking adolescents and adults. Her postdoctoral research focused on
early language acquisition in French-speaking children with and
without language delay at the School of Communication Sciences and
Disorders, McGill University. She is presently teaching and carrying
out research on language acquisition and processing in French-Speaking
populations with and without language disorders at the School of
Speech Language Pathology and Audiology at Universit� de Montr�al.
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