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Review of  Language, Mind and Brain


Reviewer: Xuelin He
Book Title: Language, Mind and Brain
Book Author: Ewa Dabrowska
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Psycholinguistics
Neurolinguistics
Language Acquisition
Book Announcement: 16.1844

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Date: Sat, 11 Jun 2005 10:12:04 +0800 (CST)
From: xuelin he <hxuelin@yahoo.com>
Subject: Language, Mind and Brain

AUTHOR: Dabrowska, Ewa
TITLE: Language, Mind and Brain
PUBLISHERS: Georgetown University Press (USA) & Edinburgh University Press
(ROW)
YEAR: 2004

Xuelin He, Foreign Language Institute, Fujian Normal University

OVERVIEW

This slim book, as its title indicates, unfolds the author's ambition to
reconsider the theory of grammar on a platform incorporating linguistic
language, psychological mind and neurological brain into one framework.
The first chapter serves much like a preface, consisting of a statement of
purpose and motivation for the making of such a book and a brief account
of recurrent themes. Chapters 2 to 6 make up of the first part, each
chapter specifically dealing with either psychological or neurological
aspects on language processing. The remaining chapters are the second part
with a focus on linguistic devices of grammar.

SYNOPSIS

Part I The Basic Specifications
The second chapter begins with an illustration of speech recognition and
lexical disambiguation involved in processing even a simple sentence to
show the complexity of language processing which contrasts with the
quickness of human responses to utterance they hear. Yet human brains are
not fast processors as expected to speed up the computation of complicated
tasks. A plausible explanation is to assume that humans employ shortcuts
in language processing. One of them are ready-made word strings in memory
for easy retrieval if necessary. Shallow processing is another shortcut
that makes it easy to arrive at the semantic interpretation without fully
lexical or syntactical parsing. Lastly, a person may resort to his/her
knowledge about probabilistic information of word choice in a context.

Chapter 3 raises doubt about the innate universal grammar in children
language development. It is argued that the similarities of linguistic
behavior in children could also be well explained in terms of concept,
salience and frequency without appealing to the hypothesized uniformity
from the nativism perspective; and on the other hand that individual
differences in the pattern of language growth are too significant to
ignore the possibility of genetic divergence in language program. The role
of input is also revalued by quoting the latest research results about
language acquisition. Another blow on innate factors is from the virtual
discrepancy of linguistic construction between blind children and sighted
children. The conclusive section argues for the flexibility of language
learning system.

Chapter 4 questions the claim that linguistic knowledge is hardwired in
some specific areas of the brain. Recent findings from brain damage
recovery in children and plasticity of linguistic organization in
hemispherectomised persons revolutionize the relationship between the
lesion location and language impairment: brain damage does not always lead
to linguistic dysfunction. Persons suffering from Broca's aphasia were
found to partly preserve their grammatical knowledge. The fact that
lexical and grammatical deficits co-occur in aphasic patients undermines
the traditional division of a speaker's linguistic knowledge into
Wernicke's and Broca's areas. This chapter ends with the conclusion that
language faculty is flexible.

Chapter 5 deals with whether or not linguistic abilities depend upon other
cognitive capacities. The modularity hypothesis holds the autonomy of
language processing in a specialized cognitive module. It seems especially
justifiable in the cases of language impairment without having other
cognitive processes being affected. However, some recent researches
suggest the qualitative difference of language processing by mentally
retarded individuals as the evidence of brain's self adjustment for
language.

Chapter 6 discusses various biological endowments of language. Genetically
specified language module is challenged from several aspects: first, the
neuroanatomical similarity between human brain and that of primates;
second, huge number disparity between genes and neurons; third, the
observed plasticity of cortical tissues. Instead, the current conjecture
on the origin of language entails prelinguistic abilities from other
existing biological organs evolved for non-linguistic purposes, cortical
control over the ways humans articulate and act, and cumulative cultural
evolution which may incarnate human excellent capacities to learn by
imitation and to identify with his/her conspecifics. However, this may not
be a complete picture of language emergence. Linguistic universals or
conventions may be the result of the adaptive process language adjusts to
humans. The final section of this chapter not only examines the validity
of Universal Grammar by reconsidering the argument of input poverty but
also criticizes the innateness of UG.

Part II The Building Blocks of Language
Chapter 7 is an attempt to justify the invalidity of overstated innateness
in lexical knowledge. It starts with an systematic analysis to highlight
three features of spatial expressions: first, conventional basis of
mapping limited number of locative terms into infinite number of spatial
relationships an object holds in the real world; second, abundance of
senses some prepositions may designate; third, cross-linguistic diversity
of directional expressions. Followed is a brief survey over the
acquisition patterns of location terms in children from different language
groups. The final sections of this chapter consist of the discussion on
the innate structure as conceptual atomism or as perceptual experience and
the introduction of connectionist lexical learning

Chapter 8 offers an insightful discussion on grammatical rules and
regularity in language use through comparing the connectionist model with
the generative approach to inflection systems. The bulk of this chapter
are concerned with three test cases individually for German plural ending,
Polish genitive and dative. Here the psychologically technical theme
concentrates on the underlying mental process for regular and irregular
inflections. In the dual-mechanism model, the regular inflection is
regarded as a default to any stem while irregulars are stored in memory
for retrieve. Against the list of occasions for applying regular
inflections by Pinker and Marcus, the author provides her counterargument
for such a default usage from the perspective of the connectionist
network. The ending summarizes the general problems and possible solutions
for the connectionist account.

Chapter 9 elaborates the syntactic development in children to manifest how
the syntactic construction is possible to begin with a repertoire of word
strings paired with meaning. The first section describes the close ties
between lexical and grammatical knowledge, and then it is expounded in the
cases of various lexical patterns and acquisition styles occurred in the
early stage of children, to cite a few, rote-learned chunks, filler
syllables, pronoun reversals, U-curve, mosaic acquisition. The case study
of question construction in the final section supports the hypothesis that
the lexically specific learning is much more likely to happen than
argument structure construction.

Chapter 10 may be, measured with others in Part Two, thinner in pages, but
weightier in theoretical value. It carries more than an appealing call for
a psychologically realistic grammar with the exemplification of the
author's efforts to describe language production within a cognitive grammar
(CG) framework. Section 2 provides a quite concise yet accurate
description of main ideas held by cognitive grammarians such as Langacker,
Fillmore, Goldberg and Croft. The ending section kindles hope for CG being
able to substitute for UG in the accounts of such linguistic aspects as
extraction, binding, control, etc., and it also points out the challenge
to develop CG accounts of language acquisition and processing.

EVALUATION

Any psycholinguistic book with a coverage of language, mind and brain
would be expected to be a tome at least twice as long as this one. So a
potential reader would find every sentence on each page extremely
informative to the effect that it sets up index to abundance of empirical
findings from psychological and neurological research relative to
linguistic theory and provides a quick pick for those who are ready to
adopt a multidisciplinary stance in career. And this friendly reading
results partially from the lack of rhetoric whitewash in rejecting the
Chomskyan nativism and the narrative straightness of her own opinions to
avoid the redundancy of balanced comments which is easily induced in a
controversial topic assumed with breadth of argument.

The aim of the book calls for a combined effort between psychologists and
linguists towards a theory of grammar with psychological reality in terms
of flexibility and speed in language processing, or perhaps even with
biological reality in terms of low-tech, general-purpose mental mechanism
for language learning. Such a grammar is now riding piggyback on cognitive
grammar, and more important, most evidence comes from developmental data.
The psychological reality in the adult world of linguistic communication
means more than what can be measured and manipulated in laboratory as Part
I does, and it is involved in more intricate mental phenomenon such as
intention, belief, desire, consciousness, etc.. However, a theory in
budding should not be expected to meet every requirement.

It is argued that lexical concepts are based on the perceptual primitives
which emerge from sensorimotor experience(Chapter 8.3.2). An example is
quoted as follows to further the argument that even abstract concept might
well possibly be the result of perceptual experience. The abstract
term "anger" is accessible in terms of metaphor "ANGER IS THE HEAT OF A
FLUID IN A CONTAINER"(p.110). Besides the English expressions like "chilly
anger or icy anger", two different metaphors about ANGER in Chinese (I use
Pinyin for the exact Chinese characters):
(1)
nu huo
anger flame
'flame-like anger'
(2)
nu qi
anger air
'air-like anger'

Despite the qualitative difference in the substance of two metaphors, they
are relative to different perceptual parts of body. The flame-like anger
extends into formulaic expressions in Chinese like "nu huo xin(xiong)
zhong ran shao" 'The anger flames within one's chest or heart', whereas
the air-like anger stuffs one's abdomen as in "yi du zi nu qi" 'a stomach
full of anger'. Furthermore, the air-like anger could also be perceived
through one's hair as shown below.
(3)
nu fa chong guan
anger hair push hat
'Anger makes hair straighten and push up the hat.'

From the above description, ANGER in Chinese at least possesses two
perceptual primitives. Perhaps more intensive research is necessary for
any speculation on the starting point of lexical knowledge.




 
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER


Xuelin He is now pursuing her PhD degree in the National Applied
Linguistic Center, Guangdong University of Foreign Studies. Her curiosity
about meaningfulness of language lead her a journey beginning from
semantic truth, then pragmatic relevance and finally to language-based
mental activity. Her unfinished dissertation is about meme in meaning
construction, surveyed from two aspects: one about meme in enriching
referential relations between name and reference, the other about meme-
induced change on content and form of a linguistic expression from
evolutionary perspective.


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Pages: 256
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