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Review of  Notions de neurolinguistiques théorique

Reviewer: Kevin Mendousse
Book Title: Notions de neurolinguistiques théorique
Book Author: Philippe Monneret
Publisher: Editions Universitaires de Dijon
Linguistic Field(s): Neurolinguistics
Issue Number: 15.700

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Date: Thu, 26 Feb 2004 11:18:41 +1300
From: Kevin Mendousse
Subject: Notions de neurolinguistique theorique

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

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.

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

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

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

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 neurolinguistics.

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

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 aphasia.

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


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.