The Brain and the Book - Session 3

Session 3. January 23. What Is Language? We will explore the Chomskyan revolution.
  1. Pinker, Language Instinct, chs. 4-7,pp. 83-230.
  2. Fowler, "`Hard-Wired' Grammar Rules Found.'" Handout or available online:

  1. TV program--
    1. Lots of pix of cute babies. Emphasis on pathology for pop consumption - cures.
    2. Very little on brain, but some.
      1. Genes guiding neuron growth.
      2. Programmed for Engl phonemes only at 6 months.

  2. Julio's questions:
    1. What is relation of reader-response and deconstruction.
      NNH: so far as I can tell, deconstruction never talks about what people do, psychology, neuroscience, role of brain in language. Privileges text in manner of New Criticism.
    2. Last week: what is evidence for New Criticism? Shared response. Evybody agrees Hamlet is a Prince, a Dane, etc.
    3. Role of technology. Matt Stoddard: "It seems to me more productive to approach this question in terms of understanding the relatedness of the spheres of culture, politics, economics, technology and the like instead of working to hierarchize them." Fair enough. 1454 1st printed book. What happened in 1453. Greek scholars --> Italy, and books to circulate the Gk classics. Renaissance. Connections in Sci Am.
    4. How different from getting at basic assumptions?

  3. Generative Grammar. Pinker's account of Chomsky. terms you need to know: phonology; morphemes; morphology; syntax; lexicon; semantics. Grammar includes all plus terms for writing.
    1. Chomsky: Plato's problem
      1. What does it mean to "know" English? Japanese?
      2. Chomsky: E-language and I-language
    2. Chomsky: What are the problems with Markov? (Finite-state, phrase structure)
      1. Saussure (student notes):
        1. Accepted: arbitrary relation of signifier to signified (tho terms not used by linguists now). Saussure's notion of lange is just words.
        2. To "know" a language = dictionary in the head???
        3. Phrases (or sentences) accounted for as what Pinker will call "listemes": good evening; later alligator. 142.9
          1. Phrase structure gets sophisticated w Bloomfield et al. Build sentences as Pinker describes.
      2. Chomsky's Syntactic Structures (1957). Disproves finite-state, Markov process grammars.
        1. What is Markov process? Pinker: "chaining device." Check Markov process at nnh's web site: http://www.clas.ufl.edu/users/nnh/critic.htm
        2. 3 problems with Markov
          1. produces ungrammatical sentences
          2. sentences that refer back or forward (either-or; if-then)
          3. invisible phrase structure determines meaning ("the horse raced round the barn dropped dead")
          4. same phrase, different meanings phonologically: "dark room cleaner"
          In general, you can't derive following word from preceding.
      3. X-Bar structure. Ask to identify head, argument, adjunct. Mnemonic: SHARGAD.
        1. head. P. 508. The single word that determines meaning and properties of the whole.
        2. argument (Pinker: "role-player"). P. 504: one of the participants defining a state, event, or relationship
        3. adjunct (Pinker: "modifier"). P. 503: a phrase tt comments on or adds parenthetical information to a concept
        4. How do you determine what is adjunct and what is argument? Examples:
          1. I persuaded Geena that pigs have wings. I persuaded Geena of the value of pigs' having wings. I persuaded Geena. * I persuaded that pigs have wings. Pigs have wings. * Pigs have. * Of pigs have wings. Of pigs' having wings.
          2. Adj-Arg determined by form, "slots," not meaning!! "Native speaker."
          3. Ultimate test is "native speaker." Verdicts on forms. "Could you say X?" What does he/she think grammatical in the languge? Then assign adjunct, argument, etc., accordingly. M.I.T. cafeteria.
          4. Wags say Chomsky's greatest invention was the asterisk denoting improper grammar.
          5. Poetry and degrees of grammaticality. A great idea, ignored by Engl depts. "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously." In the grammar? In the vocabulary? In the brain? "Sleep furiously, colorless green ideas." "Anyone lives in a pretty how town."
            1. Problem of separating meaning from syntax. A major crux in Chomskyan theory. At first thought totally separate. Now elements of meaning get into grammatical choices. V complex issue. Pinker's diagrams of speech generation involve interactions.
            2. 167.5: 6 speech organs: larynx; soft palate; tongue body; tongue tip; tongue root; lips.
            3. 190ff.: The parser: understanding sentences.
            4. 211: "Garden path" sentences. Milton & Fish reading.
            5. 230: the conduit metaphor. Rampant in Engl depts.

  4. This is an investigation from the right side of the Alp (linguistic side).
    1. Can we do any more from the right than suggest "device" in a general sense?
    2. What kind of thing is this language device?
      1. Too complicated to inherit?? Cp. eye. Finite-state too complicated; has to be learned.
      2. Gene expression? Nets of neurons?
      3. Artificial neural networks can learn verb forms. PDP--I may inflict.
      4. What kind of thing is inherited? Ucs knowledge (117.6). Kinds of memory (knowledge?): procedural (implicit) and episodic (declarative).
    3. Coming from the left side of the Alp, what kinds of lesions would you expect to cause failure in the language device?
    4. "Principles and parameters" theory. Huge uniformity. Conclude: general property of mind. What kind of errors would lead to what kind of lesions?
      1. "Chn were born knowing the super-rules" (104.9). Is there a neural system for these rules? Where is it located? How does it function? Chomsky's 80 switches.
      2. In English, the header comes first. English is a SVO language. Turkish or Japanese are SOV languages, and in those, and apparently in all such languages, the header comes last.
      3. How might you investigate this?
        1. Questions of people with lesions or one lobe deactivated, questions asking about word order.
        2. Ask them to arrange words on cards, say, or speak words.

  5. Query for litry folk: Why none of this in English depts?
    1. The "it means" problem.
      1. Doesn't Pinker fall into this?
        1. rules / grammar. Formally valid. Shared. Proper question: what is shared?
        2. vocabulary (gets personal). Problem of categories. "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously." In the grammar? In the vocabulary? In the brain? "Sleep furiously, colorless green ideas."
    2. As a psychological issue -- projection. Basic bargain of people in literature. Not me - the text.
    3. Writer's problem: to elicit desired response. What goes in in CRW classes?


  6. General problem of the Alp. Neuro approach to language dismisses this approach Pinker-Chomsky as "The Black Box Approach," because "the brain itself is not studied." Can constrain theories of brain function w/o refce to brain anatomy, chemistry, or physiology. Neurologists develop block diagrams (black boxes), but can't say what a parser is or a phonological lexicon. Very sad that cross-talk not effective.

  7. January 30. How Do We Do Language? We will look at classical and recent accounts of language processing in the brain.
    1. From the point of view of the neuroscientist
      1. Bownds, ch. 11, pp. 264-282.
      2. Robeck and Wallace, "Brain Functions of Language," Ch. 6, pp. 143-177. Handout
      3. Bear, et al., Neuroscience, 576-601. Handout
    2. From the point of view of the linguist
      1. Pinker, Words and Rules, "The Black Box," "A Digital Mind," Chs. 9-10, pp. 241-287, 309-312. Handout
    3. From the point of view of the psychologist
      1. Anderson, "The Notion of Schemata," Schooling and the Acquisition of Knowledge, pp. 415-31. Handout