LINGUIST List 15.700

Thu Feb 26 2004

Review: Neuroling/Ling theories: Monneret (2003)

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  1. Kevin Mendousse, Notions de neurolinguistique theorique

Message 1: Notions de neurolinguistique theorique

Date: Wed, 25 Feb 2004 19:51:08 -0500 (EST)
From: Kevin Mendousse <>
Subject: Notions de neurolinguistique theorique

Author: Monneret, Philippe
Title: Notions de neurolinguistique theorique
Year: 2003
Publisher: Editions Universitaires de Dijon

Announced at

Dr Kevin Mendousse, The University of Auckland, New Zealand


Philippe Monneret's book, written in French, includes an introduction
(pp. 7-10), three chapters entitled ''Principes de systematique du
langage'' (pp. 11-135), ''L'apport des disciplines neurologiques''
(pp. 137-206), and ''Psychomecanique du langage et phenomenologie''
(pp. 207-268), followed by a conclusion (pp. 269-272), a bibliography
(pp. 273-282), and a table of contents (pp. 283-284).

The problematic, as Monneret states in the introduction, stands at the
crossroads of linguistics, philosophy, and neuropsychology. He is
concerned with the psychomechanics of language--also known as the
(psycho)systematics of language--, the theory of language as developed
by the French linguist Gustave Guillaume (1883-1960), and its
relevance to aphasia as well as to Maurice Merleau-Ponty's (1908-1961)
philosophy of language. The aim is to evaluate the credibility of
Guillaume's anticipatory statement that decisive cognitive evidence
from the fields of psychopathology and psychophysiology would soon
corroborate the psycholinguistic soundness of his theory.

In that respect, the purpose of Monneret's book is to introduce
linguists, neuropsychologists, and philosophers alike to what is now
considered in France one of the mainstream schools of linguistics
alongside ''Saussurism, glossematics, functionalism or generative
grammar'' (p. 12), although it remains by and large a marginal
theoretical model of language.

The first chapter, ''Principes de systematique du langage'', is
divided into two subchapters entitled ''Principes theoriques de la
linguistique guillaumienne'' (pp. 13-34) and ''L'analyse des systemes
de la langue selon Gustave Guillaume'' (pp. 34-135). It offers an
introductory account of Guillaume's psychomechanics of language,
laying out the general scope of the theory, basic concerns, principles
of enquiry, and key concepts, along with its most common applications
to language (sub)systems.

The first subchapter thus displays the bulk of Guillaumean linguistics
as a reaction against Saussure's oppositional structuralism. In
particular, Guillaume argues for the need to reinterpret the standard
Saussurean language-speech dichotomy in terms of an integral of
successivity, stretched from potentiality (phonological level) to
actuality (phonetic level) and where the transition from one state to
the other necessarily implies the presence--overlooked by Saussure--of
a temporal factor contained within the act of language
itself. Guillaume's omnipresent concept of operative time (''temps
operatif''), or the time it takes the mind to realise a time image, is
discussed here, as is his redefinition of the linguistic sign and his
distinction between acts of representation and acts of expression.

In the second subchapter, Monneret broadens his account of Guillaume's
theory to its various applications to the systems and subsystems of
language, such as that of the word, first in its more general sense
(i.e. lexemes and morphemes), and then with particular reference to
the substantive, the verb, the non-predicative parts of language, and
the article.

The second chapter, ''L'apport des disciplines neurologiques'',
comprises five subchapters entitled ''Apercu historique''
(pp. 138-164), ''Le substitut anatomique du langage'' (pp. 164-171),
''Les voies et centres nerveux impliques dans l'expression orale''
(pp. 172-185), ''Definition et semiologie de l'aphasie'' (pp.
186-192), and ''Formes cliniques de l'aphasie'' (pp. 192- 206). It
provides the reader with a summary of the major trends and findings in
the fields of neuropsychology, neurolinguistics and cognitive

The first subchapter briefly outlines the (pre)history of
neuropsychology, from the pioneering work of the Egyptians, who
described the first causal relationship between cerebral lesions and
sensorimotor disorders, to both scientists and philosophers of Ancient
Greece and the Middle Ages, to modern neurolinguistics and cognitive
neurolinguistics. Monneret makes particular reference to the rise and
fall of cerebrocentric and cardiocentric theories, the discovery of
cerebral localisations, and the development of associationist models
and global theories.

The second subchapter serves as an update to the historical synopsis
by introducing the central nervous system and the cerebral
hemispheres, and by offering a description of the different lobes,
circumvolutions, fissures, and gyruses, which are all mapped out on a
cross section of the brain (p. 167). The traditional conception of the
language area as a division of the left hemisphere into the Broca
area, the Wernicke area, and the inferior parietal lobe is discussed
here, with reference to the underlying associative processes involved
in the learning of nouns.

The third subchapter goes on to unfold the general organisational
principles underpinning motricity, and presents the canals and nervous
centres that are active during the various stages of phonation and
verbal expression.

The fourth subchapter expands the discussion to include a definition
and semiology of aphasia, describing a range of disorders in oral
production and aural comprehension as well as in written expression
and written comprehension, while the fifth subchapter reviews types of
clinical aphasia with a strong emphasis on Broca's aphasia, Wernicke's
aphasia, amnesic aphasia, transcortical motor aphasia, and subcortical

The third and final chapter, ''Psychomecanique du langage et
phenomenologie'', includes four subchapters entitled ''Langage et
pathologie du langage dans Phenomenologie de la perception''
(pp. 212-243), ''La periode intermediaire'' (pp. 243-251), ''Le
langage et l'ontologie de la chair'' (pp. 251-262), and ''Systematique
du langage et phenomenologie'' (pp. 262-268). Here Monneret, in search
of the epistemological principles necessary to the grounding of a
theory of neurolinguistics, draws on Merleau-Ponty's unique philosophy
of language to demonstrate its ready compatibility with Guillaume's
view of the ontology of language.

Pointing to the motivations behind Merleau-Ponty's philosophy of
language, the first subchapter cites his early criticisms of the
age-old Western mind-body dualism. Merleau-Ponty rejects both the
rationalist/intellectual accounts of humanity and the more
empirical/behaviouristic attempts to define the human condition in
favour of a phenomenology of perception centred on an account of the
lived and existential body.

Tracing the development of Merleau-Ponty's thought, Monneret proceeds
in the second subchapter to signal the influence of Saussurean
linguistics and Guillaumean psychomechanics in the philosopher's
original ideas, and to explain how language was soon to become for
Merleau- Ponty the question at the core of his phenomenology,
subsuming all others.

The third subchapter continues the discussion with reference to the
later work of Merleau-Ponty, highlighting his transition from a
philosophy of consciousness to a philosophy of Being based on his
concept of the ontology of the flesh.

The fourth subchapter indicates the main lines of convergence between
Guillaume's psychomechanics and Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology.

Finally, a short conclusion summarizes the main points of what
Monneret regards as truly specific to the science of theoretical
neurolinguistics, and posits these points as a rationale for
considering theoretical neurolinguistics as a branch of linguistics
rather than neuropsychology.


Monneret's Notions de neurolinguistique theorique succeeds in all its
stated objectives. It very accurately and concisely lays down the
fundamental units and concepts of Guillaumean linguistics and Merleau-
Ponty's philosophy of language.

The descriptions and explanations are always to the point and
self-contained, the writing clear and effective, making it easily
accessible to the target readership. Monneret's strongest point in
this excellent work is undoubtedly his ability to communicate often
difficult concepts in terms that ''speak'' to the reader, while
encouraging reflection through a discussion that is interesting,
relevant, and often thought-provoking.

Having said that, the diversity, originality and complexity of ideas
covered in Monneret's investigation of theoretical neurolinguistics
will probably still prove quite demanding for the non-initiated
reader, not to mention the terminology factor. It is regrettable,
then, that the book does not include a glossary of terms used. Novice
readers would no doubt have found this a welcome addition to an
introductory text that (necessarily) comprises a certain amount of
jargon. Similarly, the absence of any form of index will quite
probably be a disappointment, especially to the more initiated reader.

Overall, the book is an insightful work that provides the reader with
an overview of traditional observations of the neuropsychology of
aphasia, of the foundations of Guillaumean linguistics, and of
Merleau-Ponty's philosophical conception of the relationship between
language and thought. The originality of Monneret's problematic lies
in bringing these notions together in order to highlight the need for
a theory of neurolinguistics that will unlock our understanding of
language pathologies.

Unsurprisingly, given the scope of Monneret's subject, the reader is
occasionally left feeling that some more philosophical notions could
be developed further, such as the distinction in Guillaume's theory
between the two underlying levels of immanence and transcendence in
language, to cite but one example (pp. 38-39). Monneret's explicit
purpose, however, is not to be exhaustive but rather to present a
''vulgarization'' (p. 34) of what he openly acknowledges (pp. 7-8) as
a marginal, if not unknown theory of language to the wider scientific

And indeed, despite being accustomed to interdisciplinary practices,
language pathology clinicians seldom seem to have access to
Guillaume's theory, probably due to the predominance of the American
cognitive paradigm within the interdisciplinarity of their field,
while those linguists and philosophers familiar with the theory have
no need a priori to specialize in neuropsychology. This book should
therefore serve as a very useful complementary tool to linguists,
philosophers, and neuropsychologists alike who are interested in the
question of the biological inscription of human language.

The only drawback of the book lies in the fact that the initial
ambition of the author, which was to promote ''the relevance and
vitality of Guillaumean linguistics'' (p. 12), is somewhat limited by
the language of writing itself. Until an English translation of the
book is made available to the public, it is very likely that
Guillaume's fascinating psychomechanics of language will remain a
theory restricted to a relatively limited number of researchers.


Dr Kevin Mendousse is a lecturer in French at the University of
Auckland (New Zealand), and holds a PhD in linguistics from the
University of the Sorbonne (Paris IV, France), where he taught English
phonetics and phonology as well as grammar and translation. His main
research interests include articulatory and acoustic phonetics, speech
perception, (morpho)phonological theory and mental representations,
and, more generally, psycholinguistics and cognitive psychology.
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