See the Website: Language Brain and Evolution EXPLAINING gesture/word links and WORD-LISTS AS GESTURES

[Presentation for Language Origins Society September 7-9 2000 Rutgers University NJ]

BRAIN LEXICON SYNTAX

Robin Allott

PART I

MOTOR THEORY

PART II

LEXICON AND SYNTAX IN THE BRAIN

 

PART I

MOTOR THEORY OF LANGUAGE

The Motor Theory is a theory of the origin and functioning of language. The theory is that the structures of language (phonological, lexical and syntactic) were derived from and modelled on the pre-existing complex neural systems which had evolved for the control of body movement. Motor control at the neural level requires pre-set elementary units of action which can be integrated into more extended patterns of bodily action -- neural motor programs. Speech is essentially a motor activity (a stream of articulatory gestures). Language made use of the elementary pre-set units of motor action to produce equivalent phonological units (phonemic categories). The neural programs for individual words were constructed from the elementary units in the same way as motor programs for bodily action. The syntactic processes and structures of language were modelled on the motor ‘syntax’.

 

PRECURSORS

PLATO in the CRATYLUS

"Cratylus says that everything has a right name of its own, which comes by nature and that a name is not whatever people call a thing by agreement, just a piece of their own voice applied to the thing, but that there is a kind of inherent correctness (orthoteta tina ton onomaton pephukenai) which is the same for all men, both Greeks and foreigners" whereas Hermogenes was not persuaded that "there is any correctness of names other than convention and agreement".

Socrates reached the conclusion: "A name then it appears is a vocal imitation (mimema phonei) of that which is imitated... It will seem ridiculous, no doubt, that things are made manifest through imitation in letters and syllables; nevertheless it cannot be otherwise. For there is no better theory upon which we can base the truth of the earliest names for things (unless we have recourse to dei ex machina)".

LUCRETIUS

"putare aliquem tum nomina distribuisse
rebus et inde homines didicisse vocabula prima,
desiperest. nam cur hic posset cuncta notare
vocibus et varios sonitus emittere linguae
tempore eodem alii id non quiesse putentur.

To propose that someone allocated names to things and that it was from him that men learnt their first language is foolish. Why should he have been able to designate each thing with a word and utter spoken sounds at a time when nobody else could do this? De Rerum Natura 5: 1040-1045

JOHN WILKINS Bishop of Chester, Warden of Wadham College, Oxford Founder of the Royal Society

Essay Towards a Real Character and a Philosophical Language 1668

"It were exceedingly desirable that the names of things might consist of such sounds as should bear in them some analogy to their natures; and the figure and character of their names should bear some proper resemblance to those sounds that men might easily guess at the sense or meaning of any name or word, upon the first hearing or sight of it. But how this can be done in all the particular species of things I understand not".

JOHANN GOTTFRIED HERDER Essay on the Origin of Language 1772

Whence comes to man the art of changing into sound what is not sound? What has a color, what has roundness in common with the name that might evolve from it? I trust no one will blame me if in this case I cannot understand the meaning of the word arbitrary. To invent a language out of one's brain, arbitrarily and without any basis of choice, is - at least for a human soul that wants to have a reason, some reason for everything - is no less of a torture than it is for a body to be crushed to death. An arbitrarily thought-out language is in all senses contrary to the entire analogy of man's spiritual forces. The protagonists of the supernatural origin of language have their answer ready-made: "Arbitrary! Who can search and understand God's reason for why green is called green and not blue?"

 

WILHELM VON HUMBOLDT Uber die Kawisprache auf der insel Java 1836 Linguistic variability and intellectual development

The sound is not "a directly imitative sign but indicates a quality which the sign and the object have in common. . . . sounds which partly independently and partly in comparison with others produce an impression which to the ear is similar to that which the object makes upon the mind.". This kind of sign process which is based upon the particular meaning of each individual letter and whole groups of letters has undoubtedly exercised a prevailing, perhaps even exclusive, influence on primitive word formation."

 

CHARLES DE BROSSES

Charles de Brosses. President of the Parlement de Dijon, was the first author to propose the origin of language as a product of the physiological organisation of the human being. In his Traité de la Formation Méchanique des Langues et des Principes Physiques de l'Etymologie (Paris 1765) he said:

"Toutes les observations çi-dessus prouvent qu'il y a des figures des mots, des caractéristiques de sons, liés à l'existence des sensations intérieures, qu'il y en a de liés à l'existence des objets extérieurs ou du moins à l'effet qu'elles produisent sur le sensorium"

"All these observations prove that there are word-forms, word-sound features, which are linked to the existence of internal sensations, and at the same time are also linked to external objects or at least to the effect that these objects have on the central nervous system."

 

PIAGET The Child’s Conception of the World 1929

Children of 5 or 6 can only conceive of the name as coming from the thing itself. "One has only to look at a thing to 'see' its name". A star was called a 'star' "because people thought that name would go best". The sun was called 'sun’ "because people thought it was a good name and a bright one". Until the age of six or seven, children say that names come from the things themselves. They were discovered by looking at the things.

 

 

MOTOR EQUIVALENCE

The central element of the motor theory of language (with the underlying motor basis of perception)

To convert:

an action into equivalent action

word into action

action into word

word into gesture

gesture into word

word into sound

sound into word

visual percept into word

visual percept into gesture

WORD SOUND/MEANING CATEGORIES

The sound-structure of a word can represent the meaning of the word in a number of ways:

Most straightforwardly the word can sound like its meaning. Examples: hiss, wail, sigh, cuckoo, tick-tock, ding-dong. A word can generate indirectly a sound representing what the word means. The names of many animals are in this category with other words referring to things which produce sounds. Examples: cat, dog, wolf, wasp, bell, whistle, klaxon, thunder, wind. A word can directly reproduce the action to which it refers. Examples: spit, suck, chew, yawn, sneer.

A word can generate a deictic gesture, that is, a gesture which involves pointing to what the word refers to. Words for many body parts and some pronouns are in this category. Examples: head, ear, eye, you, he.
A word can generate an action which represents what the word refers to. This is similar to deictic words. Many function words fall in this category as well as many simple action verbs. Examples: this, that, at, forward, back, hit, throw, take, push, point, pluck, pick, sew, heavy, light.
A word may generate a gesture which outlines what the word refers to. Examples: arch, edge, heap.
A word may generate an action picturing the use of an object referred to. Example: needle,

A word may generate a picturing action plus an associated sound. Examples: whip, air, fire.
A word may generate a gesture which amounts to the 'showing' of what the word refers to. This is particularly the case for body parts. Examples: hand, arm, elbow, wrist.
A word may generate a deictic gesture plus an action gesture. Examples: hat, flower.
A word may generate a complex containing visual, sound, deictic or other elements. Examples: snake, rain.
A word may generate an internal feeling or action. Words for emotions seem to come in this category. Examples: bitter, sweet, sour, sad, angry, cheerful.

A word may generate an action or an internal feeling for an abstract, non-concrete meaning. Examples: remember, understand, know. The associated actions may metaphorically represent the meaning e.g. elevate, separate, grasp, spontaneous.
A word may generate a movement or position specifically referring to an aspect of time. Examples: now, then

There is an Illustrative List of words where the sound/meaning relation falls in one or other of the above categories at http://www.demon.co.uk/verified.htm

The neural basis of the word sound/meaning equivalences is explained in terms of the Motor Theory of Language and of the integration of Perception and the Motor System.

 

MOTOR THEORY OF LANGUAGE

 

The Motor Theory is a theory of the origin and functioning of language. The theory is that the structures of language (phonological, lexical and syntactic) were derived from and modelled on the pre-existing complex neural systems which had evolved for the control of body movement. Motor control at the neural level requires pre-set elementary units of action which can be integrated into more extended patterns of bodily action -- neural motor programs. Speech is essentially a motor activity (a stream of articulatory gestures). Language made use of the elementary pre-set units of motor action to produce equivalent phonological units (phonemic categories). The neural programs for individual words were constructed from the elementary units in the same way as motor programs for bodily action. The syntactic processes and structures of language were modelled on the motor ‘syntax’.

PROPOSITIONS

1. There are basic (innate) elementary neural motor programs from which all bodily movements are constructed

2. These elementary motor programs control all the precise ballistic and targeted movements of the hand and arm

3. The elementary programs when redirected to the articulatory organs produce an equivalent set of elementary speech sounds (elementary articulatory gestures)

4. Every articulatory program can be redirected (through motor equivalence) to produce an equivalent movement of the hand and arm

5. Gestures of the hand and arm are structured by the contours of perceived objects or of larger bodily actions

6 Every gesture structured by a perceived object or action can be redirected to produce an equivalent articulatory action

PROPOSITION 1

1. There are basic (innate) elementary neural motor programs from which all bodily movements are constructed

"A Vocabulary of Motor Acts. ... We propose that in inferior area 6 there is a vocabulary of elementary motor acts coded at the single neuron level. This vocabulary is essentially related to arm-mouth movements." (Rizzolatti and Gentilucci 1988: 281)

"ces méthodes ont permis de constater que tous les mouvements naturels sont organisés en segments discrets. . . . Le mouvement est donc organisé à partir d'un répertoire de synergies qui compose autant d'actes possibles. ... une bibliothèque de mouvements facilement déclenchables" (Berthoz 1997: 152, 176)

"Both the effects of simplifying the dynamics computation and the limitations of feedback control in biological arms ... strongly suggest that there must exist substantially correct preprograms in order for humans to make accurate fast arm movements."(Hollerbach 1985: 140)

"Movement plans may be complex in the sense of being composed of separable component tasks. These components may be coordinated at some level by the voluntary motor system, in order to combine tasks into appropriate actions ." (Haggard 1991: 153)

"these methods have established that all natural movements are organized in discrete segments. . . . So movement is organized on the basis of a repertoire of synergies which go to form possible actions. . . . A library of movements ready to be executed"

PROPOSITION 3

3. The elementary programs when redirected to the articulatory organs produce an equivalent set of elementary speech sounds (elementary articulatory gestures)

Articulatory phonology takes seriously the view that the units of speech production are actions, and therefore that they are dynamic, not static. (Haskins Laboratories)

"Utterances are modeled as organized patterns ... of gestures, in which gestural units may overlap in time. The phonological structures defined in this way provide a set of articulatorily based natural classes" (Browman and Goldstein 1992: 155)

"Such gestures not only can characterize the movements of the speech articulators but also can act as phonological primitives" (Browman and Goldstein 1990: 313)

PROPOSITION 4

4. Every articulatory program can be redirected (through motor equivalence) to produce an equivalent movement of the hand and arm

MOTOR EQUIVALENCE:

"On désigne par 'équivalence motrice' une propriété simple et remarquable du cerveau: celle qui permet de faire le même mouvement avec des effecteurs très différents. Par exemple, je peux écrire le lettre A avec le main, ou le pied, ou même la bouche; je peux même dessiner un A en me promenant sur le plage! "(Berthoz 1997: 246)

" ‘Motor equivalence’ is the term for a simple and remarkable property of the brain which allows one to perform the same bodily movement with very different effector systems. For example, I can write the letter A with my hand, with my foot, or even with my mouth; I could even make an A by walking on the beach" (Berthoz 1997: 246)

"comparing findings on the motor organization of speech with the organization of voluntary movements about the elbow ...We have found that the kinematic patterns for movements of the tongue dorsum were similar to those of voluntary flexion-extension movements about the elbow" (Ostry and Cooke 1987: 223).

"the task dynamic model we are using for speech was exactly the model used for controlling arm movements, with the articulators of the vocal tract simply substituted for those of the arm." (Browman and Goldstein 1991: 314)

PROPOSITION 5

5. Gestures of the hand and arm are structured by the contours of perceived objects or of larger bodily actions

"While people talk, they also use their hands. 'illustrative gestures' are used to indicate shapes, sizes, directions and to point, for example to describe a spiral staircase. .. Where illustrative gestures are similar in form to their reference, emblems [gestures with arbitrary meanings] usually are not" (Argyle 1987:63)

A gesture may be an indication. This is perhaps not so much resemblance as a variant of the action-gesture. The most rudimentary gesture is to point to the object referred to or more particularly to the feature of the body referred to. A gesture for the ear is to point to or touch the ear - and so on.

"We respond to gestures with an extreme alertness and, one might almost say, in accordance with an elaborate and secret code that is written nowhere, known by none and understood by all." (Sapir quoted by Plutchik 1980: 269)

"Iconic gestures appear to be images of concepts and imply the existence of schemas which produce them" (McNeill 1981: 203)

PROPOSITION 6

6 Every gesture structured by a perceived object or action can be redirected to produce an equivalent articulatory action

GESTURE AND SPEECH AS LINKED PROCESSES

"speech and gesture arise as interacting elements of a single system" (McNeill 1987: 503)

"The central thesis is that the visual system and the motor system are functionally inseparable ... they are components of a unified perceptuo-motor system, which is itself a component of the organism-environment system." (Lee 1980: 281)

"Visually directed action implies continuous transformation of incoming visual stimuli into motor commands." (Jeannerod 1986: 41)

IMPLEMENTATION OF THE MOTOR THEORY

MOVEMENT/SPEECH-SOUND EQUIVALENCE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GENERATING MOTOR EQUIVALENT GESTURES AND SOUNDS FROM WORD STRUCTURES

 

Function words
Nouns
Verbs

 

 

PERCEPTION AND THE MOTOR SYSTEM

RUDOLF HERMANN LOTZE Mikrokosmus: Ideen zur Naturgeschichte und Geschichte der Menschheit 1854

"As soon as the image of a definite movement arises in our consciousness, combined with the wish that it should take place, we have the internal state to which is attached as a necessary result the appearance of that definite movement and when this preliminary condition of its occurrence is present, it takes place forthwith."

WILLIAM JAMES The Principles of Psychology 1890

Ideomotor action: Wherever movement follows unhesitatingly and immediately the notion of it in the mind, we have ideomotor action. We think the act, and it is done; and that is all that introspection tells us of the matter... it is no curiosity, but simply the normal process stripped of disguise.

KARL LASHLEY The Problem of Serial Order in Behavior 1951 Dynamic processes in perception 1954

"The perceptual processes in vision may be far more dependent upon integration with the postural-kinaesthetic system than we ordinarily assume. It is not impossible that all the spatial characteristics of vision are .. dependent upon integration with the postural system. It may be that we shall have to seek the source of visual percepts in the integration of these two systems."

MAURICE MERLEAU-PONTY Phenomenology of Perception 1962

"A motor presence of the word. The word is first of all an event which grips my body. When I read the word 'warm' my body prepares itself for heat and so to speak, roughs out its outline."

"Language originates from the mixture of the world and ourselves which precedes all reflection; for the child the name is the essence of the object and the child does not name the object but recognizes it. Language is not composed of conventional signs but is a form of 'psychic gesticulation’

 

ACTION MIRRORING

NOTON AND STARK

Eye Movements and Visual Perception 1971

EYE MOVEMENTS of subject viewing photograph of a bust of Queen Nefertiti [from Yarbus]

 

 

 

MELTZOFF

Imitation based on the neonate's capacity to represent visually and proprioceptively perceived information in a form common to both modalities. Observations in six newborns- one only 60 minutes old - suggest that the ability to use intermodal equivalences is innate (Meltzoff and Moore 1977: 78)

 

DECETY " Do imagined and executed actions share the same neural substrate?" Cog. Brain Res. 1996 3: 87-93

Activation du cortex moteur primaire au cours d'un geste de la main droite, exécuté (à droite) et imaginé (à gauche) en IRMf.

Primary motor cortex activation during actual (right) and imagined (left) gesture with the right hand

 

 

 

MIRROR NEURONS

"a particular class of premotor neurons, the "mirror" neurons. With this term we define neurons that discharge both when the monkey makes a particular action and when it observes another individual (monkey or human) making a similar action.

"Transcranial magnetic stimulation and positron emission tomography (PET) experiments suggest that a mirror system for gesture recognition also exists in humans and includes Broca's area. "

"such an observation/execution matching system provides a necessary bridge from 'doing' to 'communicating',as the link between actor and observer becomes a link between the sender and the receiver of each message." (Rizzolatti, Fadiga, Fogassi, Gallese Arch Ital Biol 1999: 137(2-3):85-100)

HANSE INSTITUT CONFERENCE: MIRROR NEURONS AND THE EVOLUTION OF BRAIN AND LANGUAGE

From the motor processes associated with perception can be constructed articulatory gestures - word-programs related to what is perceived

 

THE CHAMELEON THEORY

The chameleon theory of speech/gesture perception proposes that changes in brain-patterning from seeing are translated into specific motor-patterning which, for example in the infant, produces the re-presentation of the adult facial movement (Meltzoff and Moore 1973). Similarly hearing speech produces in the hearer motor patterning equivalent to the motor patterning in the speaker (Liberman et al.) Perception appears to be a process similar to that by which the chameleon changes its bodily state to match its perceived background. The perception of speech and the perception of gesture are aspects of this chameleon-process. If you see someone yawning, you will probably yawn.

 

PART II

LEXICON AND SYNTAX IN THE BRAIN

 

CHANGES IN LINGUISTIC THEORY

PROGRESS IN NEUROSCIENCE

 

LINGUISTICS

The methodological formalisms of TGG theory are abandoned.

Deep Structure, Surface Structure and many other technicalities go

The lexicon is the source of syntax.

"The Minimalist Program seeks to show that everything that has been accounted for in terms of these levels has been misdescribed." [Chomsky: New Horizons in the Study of Language and Mind 2000]

 

NEUROSCIENCE

LEXICON IN THE BRAIN

Different categories of words, content words, function words, vision words, action/motor words, are associated with topographically different patterns of excitation in the brain.

FUNCTION words and CONTENT words

Content words include nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs.

The class of content words is open, the number unlimited, about half-a-million so far in English.

Function words include prepositions, conjunctions, and demonstratives, together with morphemic subwords: the terminations of abstract nouns, verb and noun inflections, suffixes prefixes and infixes.

The number of function words and subwords in any language is small, about 200 in English.

A neurological distinction between function words and other words from clinical treatment of the aphasias over a long period and from stimulation experiments in the treatment of epilepsy: "At a few sites, only conjunctions, prepositions and verb endings were altered during stimulation. These sites are interpreted as specific to syntax" [George Ojemann]

Function words are strongly lateralized to the left hemisphere.

Content words are equally distributed over both hemispheres.

In languages with well-developed inflectional systems, aphasia may take the form of agrammatism. Nouns tend to appear only in the nominative case, verbs in the infinitive, auxiliary verbs and other words from closed classes are omitted.

"H.T. was able to read 'four' but not 'for'; V.S. read 'sum' but not 'some'; and J.D. read 'for' and 'some' but not 'four' or 'sum’ " (Marin).

NOUN VERBS

Nouns and verbs are retrieved with differently distributed neural systems (Damasio)

Grammatical differences alone, e.g. between two lexical classes such as action verbs and action-related nouns, are not sufficient for eliciting differential brain responses

Grammatical classes have a probabilistic relation to semantic classes rather than an exact correlation. (Pulvermuller)

NOUN CATEGORIES

CONCRETE ABSTRACT

ANIMATE NOT ANIMATE

VISUAL ACTION AUDITORY

CONCRETE ABSTRACT

Neural pathways involved in the processing of concrete and abstract words. A direct comparison between the abstract and concrete stimuli epochs yielded a significant area of activation in the right anterior temporal cortex. The results are consistent with recent positron emission tomography work showing right hemisphere activation during processing of abstract representations of language. The results are interpreted as support for a right hemisphere neural pathway in the processing of abstract word representations. (Kiehl et al.1999)

ANIMATE INANIMATE

Different brain networks subserve the identification of living and non-living entities; in particular, a crucial role of the left fusiform gyrus in the processing of animate entities and of the left middle temporal gyrus for tools, both from words and pictures [from a PET study by Perani et al.]

VISION words ACTION words

Motor, premotor and/or prefrontal cortices and possibly additional areas in middle temporal gyrus contribute to the processing of action words, whereas inferior temporal and/or occipital areas close to the primary visual cortex can be involved in processing vision words (Pulvermuller)

The case for localisation of action and vision words can be extended to words referring to stimuli perceived through other modalities. in assemblies with specific cortical topographies (Pulvermuller)

ODDITIES

"But isn't it interesting that a person can lose the ability to name round fruits (apples, oranges, plums) when shown them (though he can call them "fruit"), but has no trouble with bananas? And, that the same individual has problems with many other categories of nouns (can't name any birds, members of the cat family, or of the horse family--nor raccoons; can name elephants and giraffes)"

SYNTAX IN THE BRAIN

The simplest, most obvious, definition of 'syntax' (returning to the Greek origin of syntax), is that it is the system by which words are put together in any language to convey meaning.

Syntax is distributed, not narrowly modular

Language areas [Broca’s Wernicke’s] are simply not the repositories of linguistic skill and knowledge that they were once thought to be. ... do not support any simple localisation of language functions (Deacon)

Studies of language breakdown in aphasia have forced abandonment of the idea of a "grammar box": neural tissue devoted exclusively to grammar (Bates)

GRAMMAR AND COGNITION

A severely retarded young woman, named Laura, at the age of 16 produced syntactically complex sentences like 'She does paintings, this really good friend of the kids who I went to school with last year and really loved.' Although Laura produces sentences with multiple embeddings, can conjoin verb phrases, produce passives, inflect verbs for number and person to agree with the grammatical subject, and forms past tenses when the time adverbial structurally refers to a previous time, she can not add 2 + 2, read nor write nor tell time. She does not know who the president of the US is or what country she lives in and does not know her own age. In a sentence imitation task she detected and corrected surface syntactic and morphological errors. (Fromkin)

 

GRAMMAR and CHILDREN

Clearly driven by a genetic endowment, children restructure their system of lexical concepts by a process of syntactization. Lexical concepts acquire syntactic category and subcategorization features, verbs acquire specifications of how their semantic arguments (such as agent or recipient) are to be mapped onto syntactic relations (such as subject or object), nouns may acquire properties for the regulation of syntactic agreement, such as gender, etc; a system of packages of syntactic information for each lexical concept. At the same time, the child quickly acquires a closed class vocabulary, a relatively small set of frequently used function words. These words mostly fulfill syntactic functions; they have elaborate lemmas but lean lexical concepts. This system is largely up and running by the age of four. From then on, producing a word always involves the selection of the appropriate lemma. (Levelt)

 

" A most dramatic finding was reported on by Neville and co-researchers in experiments involving event-related potentials or ERP's [Event Related Potentials].... They found that ERP's "to syntactically well-formed but semantically anomalous sentences produced a pattern of brain activity that is distinct in timing and distribution from the patterns elicited by syntactically deviant sentences, and further, that different types of syntactic deviance produced distinct ERP patterns." (Fromkin Lingua 1997)

 

THE PROBLEM

The problem of language both in brain research and in linguistics thus becomes how the content words carrying specific meanings are to be fitted together through the use of syntactically operating function words (together with functional subwords - morphemes of tense, agreement, pluralisation) along with word order rules to produce the meaningful sentence.

SYNTAX COMPONENTS

CONTENT CATEGORIES

FUNCTION WORD CATEGORIES

WORD ORDER

The syntax of a language results from the co-operation and interaction of these three components.

MOTOR BASIS OF SYNTAX COMPONENTS

For each of the three components in syntax, the relation to the motor theory may take the form of: a relation directly with the organization of action -- 'the grammar of action'-- or a relation directly with the organization of perception, 'the grammar of vision'(Gregory).

Vision is motor-based, the eye sees by the combination of saccades and fixations plus a constant (structural) tremor which appears to play an essential role in maintaining vision.

MOTOR BASIS OF CONTENT WORDS

Words referring to objects are generated initially by the motor program (composed of saccades and fixations) responsible for scanning the object

The most primitive division of what is perceived is into the static and the changing, which equate reliably with Nouns and Verbs.

Words referring to actions are generated initially by the motor program for the action

MOTOR BASIS OF WORD ORDER

Scanning of a visual scene by the eye is a serial process, just as spoken language is a serial process.

Bodily action is also serial; we stretch out our arm before we pick up a glass before we bring the glass towards us and then drink from it.

The serial ordering of vision and of action provides the primitive foundation for the patterns of ordering in speech utterances.

SYNTACTIC ROLE OF FUNCTION WORDS

A function word or function subword is a speech- form which has no definable external reference and which acts in association with other function words to determine the role of non-function words in the word string or utterance

In English function words may be needed to indicate whether open-class words are acting as Nouns, Verbs or Adjectives

MOTOR BASIS OF FUNCTION WORDS

Closed-class function words and subwords have analogues in the motor control system and may be derived from aspects of motor programming required for 'the grammar of vision' or 'the grammar of action'.

Features of function words which can be compared with operational aspects of 'action grammar' or 'vision grammar' are: Timing Direction and Relative Position Hesitation and Choice Salience Sequence.

WORD ORDER

The question of how serial order is achieved in syntactic word strings has long been considered to aim at the heart of our language faculty, and, from a theoretical point of view, it appears important to make clear whether a neurobiological model of word processing can offer perspectives on the biological reality of grammar (Pulvermuller)

THE CAT SAT ON THE MAT

Phrase Structure Example

The cat sat on the mat in the morning on Thursday

 

VERSIONS

The cat sat on the mat The cat sat through the mat The cat sat up the mat The cat sat on the hypothesis The cat sat on the river The cat sat on the suggestion The mat sat on the cat The sat cat on the mat The on the mat cat sat The cat expostulated on the mat The wind sat on the mat The sentence sat on the mat The man sat on the cat The mat sat on the man

WORD ORDER AMBIGUITY

10 words drawn from a single language can be arranged in 3,628,000 ways. To arrive at the one semantically and syntactically right order, 3,627, 999 arrangements have to be judged deviant.

If the words can be from any one of 6400 world languages, the number of possibly deviant arrangements would be more than the number of atoms in the cosmos.

 

WORD ORDER?

How do we know which of the arrangements of words makes sense and is grammatically possible?

The phrase structure can only be constructed if we already know the meaning of the words, the meaning of the sentence and the inter-relation of the words.

How do we know the categories into which the words fall, the grammatical function of these categories and the way in which the words in a sentence should be grouped?

Our understanding of a sentence is possible because of the topographical categorisation of words by the brain, as content or function words, as action or visual words, abstract or concrete, animate or inanimate

WORD ORDER OPERATIONS

[brain operations]

1. Semantic role of the individual words

2. Role of collocation (adjacency?)

3. Deictic element in anaphora

 

THE SYNTAX PROCESS

The role of syntax in the total process by which the individual translates his experience into words and uses them to transmit the content of his experience to another individual might be formulated as follows:

- The starting point for any particular use of language, an utterance or a written sentence, the situation from which the word-string derives, is a perception or an action of the individual.

- At its simplest the content of the perception, what is perceived, is the relationship of elements in the visual scene. The simplest perception consists of a number of elements in the perceived scene together with their relation to one another e.g. a cow is standing near a tree.

- These meaningful elements constitute the minimum semantic elements which will be taken into the utterance (or sentence) which describes the scene.

- The relation existing between the elements in the scene is transferred to constitute the relation between the elements in the word string which describe the visual scene.

- In terms of neural patterning, the precursor of the utterance is a compact form of the semantic elements derived from the perceived scene

- This compact non-syntactic form has to be converted from a simultaneous patterning into the serial form required for the normal use of language.

- The compact semantic form has to be unrolled into a serial syntactic form. This is done by the addition of function words, inflections, punctuation (pauses) and grouping of the meaningful (semantic) elements.

In this expanded syntactic form, the content of the perception can be transmitted by speech or writing.

- The hearer of the utterance, or the reader of the written sentence, has to perform a process which is the reverse of that performed by the originator of the word-string.

The expanded syntactic form has to be stripped of function-words, inflections etc. However, as they disappear, these syntactic elements guide the manner in which the content words, the semantic elements, are to be related in neural patterning.

- The hearer re-creates for himself the compact semantic (neural) form from which the speaker's utterance originally started.

- The compact form is then interpreted by the receiver who, if the transmission is successful, will have a structured neural patterning corresponding to, isomorphic with, the neural patterning from which the word-string was constructed in the first place.

The transmitted patterning is interpreted by the receiver in much the same way as would be a perception originating within the receiver himself.

MOTOR SYNTAX

b

SPEECH SYNTAX

 

? Use this account of syntax to throw light on motor control -- how the segments of motor programs might be fitted together

-- just as much as use motor control and vision research to tackle syntax in a new way?

MOTOR IMAGE

ACTION IMAGE

SENTENCE IMAGE

 

IMAGE COMPONENTS

CONTENT ELEMENTS

ADJACENCY

RELATIONAL ELEMENTS

 

 

MOTOR IMAGE

b

SENTENCE IMAGE

 

 

THE SPEECH/GESTURE SOUND/MEANING SYSTEM

What is the basis of the system? How can it be experimentally confirmed?

 

Experiment

Explanation