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Review of  The MIT Encyclopedia of the Cognitive Sciences

Reviewer: Ashish Mehta
Book Title: The MIT Encyclopedia of the Cognitive Sciences
Book Author: Frank Keil Robert A Ilson
Publisher: MIT Press
Linguistic Field(s): Cognitive Science
Issue Number: 14.384

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Date: Thu, 06 Feb 2003 15:17:14 +0530
From: ashish mehta
Subject: The MIT Encyclopedia of the Cognitive Sciences

Wilson, Robert A. and Frank C. Keil, ed. (2001) The MIT Encyclopedia of the
Cognitive Sciences. MIT Press, paperback ISBN 0-262-73144-4 (pb),
cxxxii+964pp, a Bradford book.

[The electronic edition of this book is available through subscription at
the following website:]

Ashish Mehta, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India.


The mammoth volume under review, The MIT Encyclopedia of the Cognitive
Sciences (MITECS) is the only one-stop reference work for students and
scholars of various disciplines that come under the term 'cognitive
sciences.' It consists of 471 entries (or 'articles') authored by various
authorities, preceded by six introductory essays by volume's contributing
editors. The articles as well as essays include cross-references and
recommendations for further reading. Most of the articles are 1000 to 1500
words long. The disciplines represented in this volume include psychology,
neurosciences, linguistics, philosophy, anthropology and the social sciences
more generally, evolutionary biology, education, computer science,
artificial intelligence, and ethology. No wonder it took four years into
The editors rightly point out in the preface that there was a lack of a
single work which adequately represented the full range of concepts, methods
and results derived and deployed in the cognitive sciences in the last
twenty-five years, and the present volume aims to bridge the gap. The volume
further aims to highlight 'links across various cognitive sciences, so that
readers from one discipline might gain a greater insight into relevant work
in other fields.'
Six introductory essays are written by the volumes' advisory editors include
the following: Philosophy by Robert A. Wilson, Psychology by Keith J.
Holyoak, Neurosciences by Thomas D. Albright and Helen J. Neville,
Linguistics and Language by Gennaro Chierchia, and Culture, Cognition, and
Evolution by Dan Sperber and Lawrence Hirschfeld.


It would be beyond the scope of this review to comment on all six essays,
not to mention the articles. I take one essay, that on Linguistics and
Language, as representative of the volume.
The essay by Chierchia is one of the most exciting short introductions to
contemporary linguistics. It can be read as a primer on generative grammar,
or as a state-of-the-art survey of linguistics at the end of the eventful
century- with the cognitive perspective to boot. The author manages to cover
the entire spectrum of central themes of linguistics, which is a remarkable
achievement given the constraints of space.

The essay begins by sketching the outlines of the answer to the question:
'why is the study of language central to cognition?' The innateness
hypothesis, proposed by Chomsky, is the key to the possible answer and the
case is illustrated with examples ranging from lexicon, phonology, syntax
and semantics. The reader is introduced to the debate on language
acquisition. Chierchia does mention the alternative explanation, namely the
connectionist approaches, but he points out that the empirical evidence
favours Chomsky's views.
The second section of the essay, 'language structure,' introduces the core
concepts of morphology, phonology, syntax and semantics. Discussion on
syntax prefers to illustrate one concept, that of constituent structures,
rather than merely mentioning a battery of concepts. The author demonstrates
how syntacticians contribute directly to the cognitive sciences while
discussing psychological reality of constituent structures. The section ends
with a reference to some alternative frameworks of syntactic analysis. The
author claims that 'key empirical generalizations and discoveries can be
translated from one framework to the next.'
Interfaces between syntax on one hand and other major components of grammar
have been an exciting topic of research, leading to valuable insights for
cognitive science. The author presents a detailed discussion of one of them,
syntax-semantics interface, with two case-studies: scope of wh-operators and
scope of quantifiers. Though the problem may seem demanding, the
presentation makes it easy even for outsiders to appreciate the argument.
Similar discussions on interfaces with morphology, phonology and pragmatics
would have been welcome.
The sub-section on semantics follows the format of detailed presentation of
one representative problem rather than an exhaustive listing of them all.
The rest can be taken care of by 'see-also' references to the entries in the
encyclopedia. So, just one concept, that of 'entailment,' is presented in
detail. The discussion, which does not presuppose any knowledge on the part
of the reader, succeeds in introducing the concept of Dynamic Semantics too.
The third section, 'language use,' introduces central themes in pragmatics,
sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics, and language processing. That should
complete the picture: almost all major branches of linguistics are covered
here. More importantly, the discussion never ignores the cognitive aspect of
the topic under consideration. For example, discussion of creolization leads
to Bickerton's 'bioprogram' hypothesis, which has obvious relevance for the
cognitive sciences.
On the whole, the essay succeeds in ot only introducing central themes of
(generative) linguistics to (other) cognitive scientists, it also introduces
linguists to the cognitive aspects of the problem they deal with.


MITECS is an exciting introduction-cum-survey to the cross-disciplinary
business of the cognitive sciences. The editors rightly claim that 'MITECS
represents far more that an alphabetic list of topics in the cognitive
sciences; it captures a good deal of the structure of the whole enterprise
at this point in time. As one looks through the encyclopedia as a whole, one
takes a journey through a rich and multidimensional landscape of
interconnected ideas.' This rich landscape puts the article on 'Folk
Biology' after 'Focus' and 'Binding Theory' before 'Blindsight.' 'Sentence
Processing' is followed by 'Sexual Attraction, Evolutionary Psychology of.'
That should give the reader some idea of the eclectic mix attempted here.
The rich diversity of the topics covered here is supplemented by links
across various disciplines so that readers from one discipline might gain a
greater insight into relevant work in other fields.' MITECS lives
up to the editors' claims and readers' expectations.

Ashish Mehta is a doctorate student of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) of India, working within the minimalist framework on syntax-semantics interface issues of nominal expressions

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