Philosophy and Science of Language

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This page can be used to post descriptions of current research reports in the area of scientific study of language.

How does the brain process linguistic inputs?Edit

Published in Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. on June 28, 2005.

Continuous attraction toward phonological competitors by Spivey MJ, Grosjean M, Knoblich G.

Abstract: "Certain models of spoken-language processing, like those for many other perceptual and cognitive processes, posit continuous uptake of sensory input and dynamic competition between simultaneously active representations. Here, we provide compelling evidence for this continuity assumption by using a continuous response, hand movements, to track the temporal dynamics of lexical activations during real-time spoken-word recognition in a visual context. By recording the streaming x, y coordinates of continuous goal-directed hand movement in a spoken-language task, online accrual of acoustic-phonetic input and competition between partially active lexical representations are revealed in the shape of the movement trajectories. This hand-movement paradigm allows one to project the internal processing of spoken-word recognition onto a two-dimensional layout of continuous motor output, providing a concrete visualization of the attractor dynamics involved in language processing. (Source: PubMed 15985550)


Are there simple behavioral tests that can be used to probe how the brain pieces together the meaning of what is heard? The Spivey article describes a relatively simple experimental design which can be used for "real time" analysis of how the brain generates comprehension of spoken language. See the description of this work in the original press release where it is claimed that the results are another nail in the coffin of the idea that the brain is like a digital computer.


[FROM:NewScientist: April 16-22, page 18]
What metaphor?
"Is there a place in the brain where metaphors are understood? A study of patients with localised brain damage suggest there is."

"Vilayanur Ramachandran and his colleagues at the University of California at San Diego were intrigued by four patients who were mentally lucid,fluent in English and highly intellilgent, but could not understand proverbs."

"When one of the patients was aked to explain the adage "all that glitters is not gold" ,for instance, he completely missed the metaphorical angle, replying that people should be careful when buying jewellery."

"All the patients had damage to part of the brain called the left angular gyrus. This lies at the intersection of the brain's temporal, parietal and occipital lobes,which process tactile, auditory and visual information respectively. The findings were presented at a meeting of the Cognitive Neuroscience Society this week in New York."

My Remarks: I've always had a prejudice against the idea that art of all sorts are entertaining but that only logical language, propositions, really 'meant'anything. A poster with a picture of Einstein on my wall, quotes him thus: "Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world." I see metaphor as the language of imagination [which is very different from 'fantasy'] The linear symbols of language are not the only 'symbols' that can carry meaning. PARR

Michael A. Arbib wrote a book called The Metaphorical Brain. We tend to take for granted that our brains allow us to make connections between various types of information. However, the cerebral cortex has evolved as a patchwork of specialized processing centers. There has been evolutionary celection of which processing centers to connect together most strongly. Functional magnetic resonance imaging shows that different brain regions are activated during various linguistic and non-linguistic cognitive tasks. It makes sence that there might be brain regions, which if damaged, prevent certain types of connections from being made, blocking the normal human ability to think metaphorically.

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