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Review of  Mind, Brain, and Language

Reviewer: Phaedra Royle
Book Title: Mind, Brain, and Language
Book Author: Marie T. Banich Molly Mack
Publisher: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
Linguistic Field(s): Cognitive Science
Issue Number: 15.1506

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Date: Wed, 12 May 2004 12:08:42 -0400
From: Phaedra Royle
Subject: Mind, Brain and Language: Multidisciplinary perspectives.

Banich, Marie T. & Molly Mack, ed. (2003) Mind, Brain and Language:
Multidisciplinary perspectives, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Phaedra Royle, School of Speech Language Pathology and Audiology,
Université de Montréal, Montreal, Quebec, Canada


As stated in the preface of Mind, Brain and Language (hereafter MBL),
the aim of this publication is to provide an overview of the influence
of the organization of brain structure on language and that of language
on thought. The approach is very interdisciplinary, with contributions
from the fields of anthropology, psychology, philosophy, neuroscience,
and linguistics. The book is designed to be an entry point for
researchers who are interested in cross-disciplinary studies, but who
have little knowledge of these specific fields. The volume therefore
contains chapters written by experts in their various areas of
interest, providing us with a glimpse of the cross-disciplinary work
done by others. It includes chapters stemming from a conference on
Mind, Brain and Language that was held at the University of Illinois in
1998. It is divided into five sections. The first, ''The emergence,
Influence and Development of Language,'' focuses on language evolution,
language and its effect on thought, language perception and language
acquisition. The second section, entitled ''Models of Language and
Language Processing,'' describes linguistic and psycholinguistic models
of language processing. Section three, ''The Neurological Bases of
Language,'' deals with neuroimaging studies of language processing. In
section four, ''Language Disruption and Loss,'' developmental and
acquired language disorders are expounded, and in section five, ''Two
Languages, One Brain,'' the implications of bilingualism on language and
brain organization are addressed. I will present each chapter in turn,
focusing on the main points addressed. This will be followed by a
discussion of certain specific points that I found interesting.


Part I: The Emergence, Influence and Development of Language

1 - Language Evolution and Innateness (Philip Lieberman)
In this chapter, Lieberman discusses the evolution of the language
faculty and the modularity hypothesis, focusing on the issue of Broca's
area and its role in language processing. He rejects the idea that
language is modular and states rather that, '' can be safely said
that the Broca's-Wernicke's area theory first proposed by Lichtheim in
1885 is wrong. [...] Neuroanatomical studies clearly show that
permanent aphasia does not occur absent subcortical damage; victims of
stroke and other trauma that results in purely cortical damage recover,
usually after a period of months (Elman et al., 1997). In contrast,
subcortical brain damage can result in permanent linguistic deficits.''
(p.10) Lieberman documents findings in support of his assertion,
showing that the language system is a complex neuronal network
involving less traditional language areas such as the basal ganglia,
the prefrontal cortex, and areas of the primary visual and auditory
cortex in addition to Broca's and Wernicke's areas.

2 - Language, Mind and Culture: From Linguistic Relativity to
Representational Modularity (Giovanni Bennardo)
Bennardo reviews a study on the Linguistic Relativity paradigm (often
termed the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis). This chapter is extremely well
written. The author shows less informed readers why research on
vocabulary items (e.g., color and kinship terms) might not be the best
approach to studying the influence of language on thought. He discusses
the impact of other cognitive systems on language structure. In
particular, he presents data on the interaction of cultural knowledge,
conceptual (semantic) knowledge, and spatial representation.

3 - The Role of Speech Perception Capacities in Early Language
Acquisition (Peter W. Jusczyk)
In this chapter, Jusczyk gives an overview of the research findings on
infant speech perception over the last 30 years. The focus is on
children who are still in their first year of life. Jusczyk presents
information on the attrition of the ability to perceive non-native
contrasts, the development of sensitivity to mother-tongue phonotactic
and prosodic cues, and the emerging ability to segment the sound stream
into words and eventually into phrases. The hope is that such data will
provide us with information on how the perception of language
constrains models of language acquisition.

Part II: Models of Language and Language Processing

4 - Dissociation and Modularity: Reflections on Language and Mind
(Neil Smith)
In this chapter, Smith documents findings on language disorders in
support of a modular view of language in the brain. By using
dissociation data (i.e., the absence of some cognitive ability in the
presence of another one in a given individual), he sets out to show
that language is modular and can therefore be dissociated from other
cognitive processes. The debate centers on the dissociability of
language and intelligence. However, cases of people with low
intelligence and good language skills are rare. Smith argues that the
case of the polyglot savant Christopher and his extraordinary language
abilities in the absence of a normal I.Q. is evidence of this thesis.
Smith argues further that Christopher's linguistic behavior
demonstrates an ability to learn new lexical items and morphological
processes such as inflection, but an inability to acquire the syntax of
a new language. According to Smith, this suggests the possibility of
modularity within language (i.e., separate modules for at least syntax,
morphology, and lexicon).

5 - Linguistic Models (Geoffrey K. Pullum & Barbara C. Scholz)
Pullum and Scholz present a discussion of syntactic models of language,
which they term generative-enumerative (hereafter GU) grammars. They
note that GU grammars pose a problem for the theory, as they cannot
make a principled distinction between different levels of
ungrammaticality, especially in cases where structures are partially
grammatical. Another, more important, problem with GU grammars is that
it is mathematically impossible to use them to acquire ''superfinite''
grammars (i.e. grammars containing all the finite languages and at
least one infinite grammar), at least not from text. The authors
propose that the problem with linguistics modeling stems from the fact
that linguists try to model sets of expressions rather than the
expressions themselves. They propose the use of model-theoretic
grammars to overcome this problem. These models are based on GU
grammars, but do not have a set-generating component and would instead
include constraints on syntactic structures.

6 - Connectionist Modeling of Language: Examples and Implications (David
C. Plaut)
Plaut reviews three connectionist models of language: one each for
phonology (Plaut & Kello, 1999), morphology (Joanisse & Seidenberg,
1999), and syntax (St. John & McClelland, 1990). The main thrust of
connectionist models is to account for language processing without
cognitive specialization (or modularity). What linguists call ''rules''
are believed here to arise as a consequence of the data (or
''learning''). That is, the acquisition of the past tense in English is
not the acquisition of a symbolic structure manipulation process, but
rather the statistical strengthening of a predominant pattern that is
associated with a constant semantics. There are no morphemes in
connectionist models, only the co-occurrence of phonology and
semantics. Plaut proposes that connectionist modeling is a compelling
method for the comprehension of language processing because it can
account for the ''flexibility and productivity of human performance
through the development of internal representations that capture the
underlying structure in a domain, and because it suggests how such
representations and processes might actually be learned and carried out
by the brain.'' (p.163)

Part III: The Neurological Bases of Language

7 - Language in Microvolts (Marta Kutas & Bernadette M. Schmitt)
Kutas and Schmitt present an overview of the electrophysiology of
language processing. They establish the time-course, localization (in
terms of scalp electrodes), and strength of the different cognitive
processes involved in language recognition and production. The primary
interest of evoked response potentials (ERPs) is that they are
extremely sensitive to the unfolding time-course of language
processing, and that this methodology is non-invasive. ERP recordings
have been proven sensitive to phonological, syntactic, and semantic
information during processing. In addition, ERP readings can be taken
without asking the participant to perform a linguistic task such as
grammaticality judgment or lexical decision, thus reducing artifacts
related to metalinguistic processing.

8 - Functional and Structural Imaging in the Study of Auditory Language
Processes (Robert J. Zatorre)
Zatorre reports some findings from brain imaging and neuroanatomical
studies of auditory processing in order to better qualify the classical
Broca/Wernicke (or production versus comprehension) distinction. He
reviews a number of very specific experiments whose goal was to grasp
the specific implication of different neuronal substrates in different
language processing tasks. Zatorre suggests that Broca's area might
also be implicated in the auditory comprehension of language at the
level of phonetics.

9 - Parallel Systems for Processing Language: Hemispheric
Complementarity in the Normal Brain (Christine Chiarello)
Chiarello discusses the question: ''one or two brains?'' which is rarely
addressed in the linguistics or even the psycholinguistic literature
although it is a hot topic in neurolinguistics and neuro-cognition.
While it is clear that, in normal left-handed white males, the left
hemisphere (LH) tends to be the superior language processor, it can be
shown that both brains carry out linguistic functions in different but
complimentary ways. Chiarello presents studies of commissurotomized
(split-brain) patients in order to highlight differences in processing
at the auditory, semantic, and syntactic levels. She concludes that the
LH is an efficient language processor, rapidly zooming in on higher-
level information in order to process the message, while the right
hemisphere (RH) tends to be more superficial and broad in its language
processing capabilities. The LH is also faster than the RH in terms of
processing time. Finally, the LH tends to focus on specific meanings
for words, while the RH maintains alternative meanings, probably as a
fallback procedure if communication breaks down.

Part IV: Language Disruption and Loss

10 - Evidence From Language Breakdown: Implications for the Neural and
Functional Organization of Language (Eleanor M. Saffran)
Saffran reviews data on language breakdown following cerebral lesions
in order to extract information that reveals the functional
organization of language in the brain. This chapter focuses on three
areas of language: syntactic processing, conceptual organization
(semantics), and lexical storage and processing. Based on the data
presented, more particularly specific deficits following localized
lesions, Saffran concludes that the neural substrate is specialized in
identifiable regions of the brain for specific linguistics functions,
but that interaction nonetheless takes place between different areas in
order to produce and comprehend language.

11 - Neurocognitive Bases of Developmental Reading Disorders (Marie T.
Banich & Paige E. Scalf)

Banich and Scalf review three main hypotheses for the neurocognitive
basis for developmental dyslexia: disrupted phonological processing,
difficulties in temporal or perceptual processing, or a disconnection
between brain areas dedicated to reading even if these areas function
normally. They present data derived mainly from neuropsychological and
neuroanatomical research on developmental dyslexia. The authors note
that dyslexia might be the result of one or a number of possible
neuroanatomical disturbances, especially in view of the fact that
different types of developmental dyslexia exist, and therefore
different possible neurocognitive causes.

Part V: Two Languages, One Brain

12 - The Phonetic Systems of Bilinguals (Molly Mack)
Mack reviews studies of phonetics in bilinguals. She divides the
studies into three different approaches according to their
methodologies. The first is the ''monolingual-comparison'' approach,
where the bilingual's phonetic system is compared to that of the
monolingual in order to find out if the two systems differ. The second,
the ''shared-separate'' approach, tries to verify whether the bilingual's
phonological systems are shared or independent. The third approach,
which she terms the ''age-effect'' approach, investigates more closely
the effects of age of acquisition on the ability to learn a second
phonetic system. The chapter presents an extensive review of the data
and three models that have been proposed to account for them. However,
no model can yet account for all of the phenomena observed. Mack also
notes, ''very few bilinguals [...] will be found to function at the
phonetic level exactly as native monolinguals. This is due at least in
part to the inevitable influence [...] of one system upon the other.''
My own experience as a quasi-late learner (5 years old) of French can
attest to this. My English stress and aspiration patterns have been
strongly modified in favor of French rules.

13 - Differential Use of Cerebral Mechanisms in Bilinguals (Michel
Paradis presents an overview of his model of neurolinguistics, which is
made up of implicit linguistic competence (traditional linguistically
motivated components -- what we know but can't say) and explicit
metalinguistic knowledge (or declarative knowledge: what we can say we
know), which is at least partly responsible for some aspects of lexical
knowledge. He adds that pragmatic competence is needed for the normal
production of language. Paradis presents a review of neurolinguistic
data on language processing in bilinguals that lends support to his
model and also shows that type of bilingualism (early vs. late) and
learning style (incidental vs. explicit) are important factors in
neural organization and representation of language(s).


The main interest in this book lies in the apparent ongoing
''discussion'' between the authors of the different chapters. Two
hypotheses are repeatedly presented throughout the book: connectionist
(i.e., non-differentiated cognitive processes) versus modular (i.e.,
specialized cognitive processes) neurocognitive organization.
Researchers from different areas present their arguments for or against
either model and refer to other chapters in the book in support of
their position. In addition, a number of the authors go the extra mile
by pointing out overlaps between their area(s) of research and those of
the other authors, and they refer to other chapters for a more in-depth
discussion of details not addressed by their own section. This makes
for a nicely integrated book, especially when we consider that the
chapters cover a number of issues from quite disparate areas of

As stated in the advertisement for the book, it can be used for
readings in a graduate level course or as an introduction to areas of
interdisciplinary research for researchers who want to expand their
horizons. I was especially intrigued by recent developments in the
linguistics relativity paradigm as outlined in chapter 2 by Giovanni
Bennardo, since this is an area of linguistic research that I have not
followed closely.

A number of thoughts also arose during my readings, in particular with
respect to the discussions of the relative merits of modularity vs.
connectionism. This issue came up explicitly or implicitly in a number
of chapters. For example, in Chapter 2, Lieberman states that, since
numerous brain structures support the production of language (and not
just Broca's area, as was once thought), we cannot accept a
modularistic view of language in the brain. It is important, however,
to note that no proponent of modularity has stated that this implies
neuroanatomical localization. Strict localization is a straw man that
can easily be burned, and I believe that this type of argument against
modularity does not add to the scientific debate in any meaningful way.

Another ''linguistic'' fallacy that never ceases to amaze me is the
occasional characterization of linguistic models by some
psycholinguists as explicit. Some authors genuinely hold the notion
that linguistic rules are explicit (i.e., what we can say we know).
This, I think, is a gross misrepresentation of the domain of
linguistics. Even though we might explicitly formalize rules -- that is
write them out as logical structures in the form of ''in the past, add -
ed,'' or ''aspirate voiceless stops in stressed onsets,'' linguists do not
generally propose that this is how a child learns language or how we
represent rules. Linguistic rules are believed to be highly abstract
and implicitly represented, as discussed by Paradis in this book. This
misrepresentation is unfortunate, since it is often perpetuated in
psycholinguistic textbooks that are not used or reviewed by linguists.
If not corrected, they propagate a notion akin to the great Eskimo
Vocabulary Hoax (Pullum, 1991).


Elman, J., Bates, E., Johnson, M., Karmiloff-Smith, A., Parisi, D. &
Plunkett, K. (1997). Rethinking Innateness: A connectionist perspective
on development. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press/Bradford Books.

Joanisse, M. & Seidenberg, M. S. (1999). Impairments in brain
morphology after brain injury: A connectionist model. Proceedings of
the National Academy of Science, 96, 7592-7592.

Plaut, D. C. & Kello, C. T. (1999). The interplay of speech
comprehension and production in phonological development: A forward
modeling approach. In B. MacWhinney (Ed.), The emergence of language
(pp. 381-415). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Pullum, G. K. (1991). The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax and Other
Irreverent Essays on the Study of Language. Chicago: University of
Chicago Press.

St. John, M. F. & McClelland, J. L. (1990). Learning and applying
contextual constraints in sentence comprehension. Artificial
Intelligence, 46, 217-257.

Phaedra Royle holds a Ph.D. in Linguistics from the Université de
Montréal. Her interests lie in psycholinguistics, language disorders
(Specific Language Impairment), language acquisition and morphology.
Her thesis investigated lexical access in language-impaired French-
speaking adolescents and adults. Her postdoctoral research focused on
early language acquisition in French-speaking children with and without
language delay at the School of Communication Sciences and Disorders,
McGill University. She is presently teaching and carrying out research
on language acquisition and processing in French-Speaking populations
with and without language disorders at the School of Speech Language
Pathology and Audiology at Université de Montréal.