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Date: Mon, 29 Mar 2004 16:42:48 +0200 From: Oren Sadeh-Leicht Subject: Foundations of Language: Brain, Meaning, Grammar, Evolution
AUTHOR: Jackendoff, Ray TITLE: Foundations of Language, paperback ed. SUBTITLE: Brain, Meaning, Grammar, Evolution PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press YEAR: 2003
Oren Sadeh-Leicht, Utrecht Institute of Linguistics OTS, Utrecht University
The first (hardback) edition (2002) was reviewed in .
The book comprises of three parts. The first part discusses the psychological and biological foundations of natural language. The second part elaborates on the architectural foundations of natural language. The third part provides a more detailed survey of the semantic and conceptual foundations of natural language. The idea is to provide a full description of the cognitive abilities of the language faculty.
The first part contains four chapters. The first chapter comprises of a general introduction to the complexity of linguistic structure. It demonstrates the complexity of language, and gives an accurate description of it. A discussion of abstract representations at all levels of a simple sentence is described: phonological, syntactic, semantic/conceptual and spatial structure.
The following chapter shows how those levels can be connected (i.e., the linking problem). There is also a discussion about anaphora and unbounded dependencies. This chapter lays down the foundation to the view promoted in this book: that linguistic research should not be all about syntax (the syntactocentric view), but rather integrate all aspects of language, since these are all generative systems in their nature.
The second chapter discusses language as a mental phenomenon. It opens with a discussion of the term "mental", and how one should interpret linguistic notations as a psychological phenomenon. Furthermore, there is a discussion about what is knowledge of language in the Chomskian sense, the distinction between competence and performance, and language in a social context. The chapter introduces the notion of f-mind, functional mind. Essentially, this means that a native speaker has knowledge of functional entities, such as the notion of NP. Therefore it is functional to talk about an NP, but it does not mean that one has a notion of an NP in one's mind. This distinction is used all over the book.
The third chapter discusses combinatoriality. It introduces the need for (f-) mental grammar. Several examples of rules are brought and discussed, focusing on lexical rules are discussed more elaborately. This is followed by a discussion of the meaning of rules of grammar. The final part of this chapter discusses the binding problem in neuroscience.
The fourth and last chapter discusses universal grammar (UG). The discussion begins with arguments for the existence of UG, and an elaboration on what linguistic universals are. It continues with arguments from observations on language acquisition. A discussion follows how UG can be related to human's genetic endowment taking into account well-known psycholinguistic data. The author puts forward additional non-linguistic arguments for the existence of UG, mostly of which are biologically related (e.g., timing of acquisition, deaf children creating a language). The section ends with a summary of arguments in support of the hypothesis of UG.
The second part begins with a chapter about the parallel structure of language. Here, it is claimed that most aspects of linguistic research, i.e. phonology, semantics, syntax, can be considered to be generative systems. It further discusses the reason why a large bulk of the research in the generative tradition was "syntactocentric", and provides arguments for the necessity to have a more balanced view of all aspects of language. The following chapter deals in broad lines with the content of the lexicon. What is a lexical item? How does morphology come into play? How is the lexicon acquired? Do we construct idioms on-line, or do we store them? The chapter is sealed with some remarks about contemporary theories such as Head-driven Phrase Structure Grammar (HPSG) and Construction Grammar (CG). The next chapter is concerned with implications for processing. Basic issues are discussed, such as the division of labor between the parser and grammar, how competence theories relate to processing, and also how working memory comes into play. Relevant issues in processing are discussed, such as priming of all types, lexical access, tip-of-the- tongue states, and speech errors. A discussion of the structure of the mind follows.
The final chapter, titled "an evolutionary perspective on the architecture" is dedicated to show how language could have evolved from a state of having no language. In an intriguing and meticulous way, the author lays down the foundations of how language, as a human cognitive specialization, could have emerged, basing his argument on (sometimes controversial) data that has been accumulated about the origins of language (such as Pidgin and Creole languages).
The final and third part of the book is an elaboration of semantic issues, which are the author's area of expertise. The first chapter discusses more general issues, such as the research of semantics, what is "meaning", the opinions of Chomsky and Jerry Fodor on semantics, contextual approaches to meaning, and what the difference between semantics and pragmatics is. The subsequent chapter discusses reference and truth, in relation to Frege. This is a chapter about basic problems in semantics: proper names, kinds, abstract objects. It also elaborates on the correlation between semantics and consciousness and the role of the community in interpretation. The next chapter discusses lexical semantics. There is a general discussion about what the boundaries of lexical meaning are, the prospects of decomposition into primitives, polysemy, and taxonomic structure. It brings about contributions from perceptual modalities, and shows that the same abstract organization is found in many semantic fields. It also discusses the interesting question of state and event functions, and how to build verb-meanings.
The final chapter discusses phrasal semantics. What is a proper argument structure? How do we refer phrasal structure to meaning? What is the role of focus? What is the connection between phrasal semantics and UG? How can discourse (conversation, narrative) be integrated into this? The book ends with concluding remarks.
This book has it all. It discusses all those troubling issues that a beginner linguist might encounter, but never knows what the "professors" have to say about them: What is the structure of the mind? How do parsers fit in? What are exactly the arguments for UG? What is the McGurk effect? How did language evolve? How different are we from the great apes? What is that difference?
The book is thus a fascinating introduction to the world of linguistics. A beginner linguist will find in the book most of his/her questions answered. However, the book does require a certain amount of basic knowledge in linguistics and psycholinguistics in order to be read fluently. The language of the book is fluent and clear, and there are jokes and self-ironies made by the author which make the reading enjoyable. It gives a sense of informality to a book which encompasses many serious subjects. However, the repeated remark that a certain interesting issue will be discussed later on in the book was somewhat annoying. Perhaps this is the tactics of the author, because it makes the reader more committed to continue reading.
The author seemed to complain about "syntactocentrism". Consequently, it was shown that language consists of several generative systems, all worthy of "centrism". However, dedicating one part out of three for semantics might appear as promoting the view that research should be "semantocentric". In my view, the end result is a general but deep review of many intriguing issues (language acquisition, evolution of language, psychology and psycholinguistics, semantics, syntax, pragmatics, sociology of language) in linguistics. I found the book extremely interesting, captivating and important. If you are not sure about certain basic facts in the research of natural language, read this book. It will provide you with quite an objective view of the development of the research of language on all aspects.
Sadeh Leicht, O. 2003. Sporadic Occurrence of the Garden Path Effect. In Yearbook 2003, eds. W. Heeren, D. Papangeli and E. Vlachou, 59-68: Utrecht Institute of Linguistics OTS.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Oren Sadeh-Leicht is a Ph.D. student in Psycholinguistics at the Utrecht Linguistics Institute OTS, The Netherlands. His M. A. thesis is entitled "Parsing Optional Garden Path Sentences in Hebrew"; a summary of this work is in Sadeh Leicht (2003). He is more generally interested in the connection between competence and performance, processing of syntactic structures, parsers, evolution of language, and neurolinguistics.