The Brain and the Book - Session 4

Session 4. January 30. How Do We Do Language? We will look at classical and recent accounts of language processing in the brain.

N.B. These two weeks, 1/30 and 2/6 overlap.

Left over from last week's tv show. Raises ethical questions. Peter Singer. Animal activist. Pickets. Why do we value an infant of 3 days over an adult pig? Brutally kill the latter, preserve the former.

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


  1. Bownds, ch. 11, pp. 264-282.
    1. Q1. We will address this next week.
    2. Q2. Deaf Nicaraguan chn. Feral children (too far-out?).
    3. Q3. What are the genetic mutations? Williams' syndrome. Ans: tt no one gene for any given linguistic ability. Brain built after conception.
    4. Q4. Adjacency? Use of max number of cells? Diff't maturation schedules for rt & lft hemis?
    5. 266.4ff. Pidgins and creoles. Cp. Bownds and more detailed--gives you a feeling for how he works.
    6. 269.9-270. Extraordinary tt ability to learn regular past tense/plurals shld be inherited. Note how this fits Pinker's words and rules model.
    7. 272. Learn parts in this diagram.
    8. 274.2-3 This bears on study question 3. This approach comes up next week with Deacon.

  2. Robeck and Wallace, "Brain Functions of Language," Ch. 6, pp. 143-177
    1. 146-7. Sex differences in brain and language. boy books vs. girl books. How come guy movies succeed?
    2. Discussion: given a plastic brain, can these experimenters separate brain differences due to culture from brain differences due to genetics? Society has an effect on the brain. Norm: what are the relative sizes of genetic and environmental effects on the brain? y separate
    3. 148.9ff. All the cell stuff. Make sure you understand this, but you need not know it in detail.
    4. Learn table 6.1 - important.
    5. Fig. 6.10 is important. Go over it. Lit crit/theory makes no systematic distinction among these modalities. Read a novel; hear it read. At the time of the invention of printing, peo said you had to read it aloud (as when boox were scarce), otherwise you wouldn't get it.

  3. Bear, 576-601. An important text.
    1. 578.7 Important: verbal expression is separate from cognitive functions. Pinker's "Mentalese." Cp. Lacan: no thought w/o language. Look for a heading in the middle of the page: "The Discovery of Specialized Language Areas in the Brain" and the passage itself begins: Gesner's definition [of aphasia] makes the important observation that cognitive ability may remain intact, but some function specific to verbal expression is lost." Hence, verbal expression must be separate from cognitive functions, and there must be somehting like Pinker's "mentalese." Note how this bears on the Whorf-Sapir hypothesis vs. ecological view.
    2. 580.1 Broca - Wernicke - Arcuate fasciculus. KEY. Know it in your sleep.
    3. 583.2. Could this be procedural memory?
    4. 583. Table is important. Separate functions of language. "paraphasia" = substitution of one word for another, incorrect for correct. "Literal" or "phonemic" paraphasia = subsitution of letter or phoneme.
    5. 585.9 Learn the Wernicke-Geschwind model. Based on lesion studies or "clinico-anatomical" method. Fig. 21.8 The diagram is online in color.


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

  1. Pinker, Words and Rules, "The Black Box," "A Digital Mind," Chs. 9-10, pp. 241-287, 309-312. Usual clarity.
    1. Can you summarize his argument about regular-irregular forms?
      1. Irregulars processed as words
      2. Regulars as rules
      3. Some agency that scans the word-list
        --if present as a word, use irregular
        --if not present as a word, use rule
    2. His argument about kinds of categories. How does this apply to genre in literature?

From the point of view of the psychologist
  1. Anderson, "The Notion of Schemata," Schooling and the Acquisition of Knowledge, pp. 415-31. Handout

  1. Anderson, "The Notion of Schemata," Schooling and the Acquisition of Knowledge, pp. 415-31.
    1. 421.4 Note reader-response in psychological terms.
    2. 422 How would you accommodate deconstruction to this?
    3. How does this research fit the idea of story grammars? Propp. Lakoff. Hogan.
    4. How does tie fit the idea of genre?
    5. Are schemata family categories? And is stuff that fits within a schemata then classical?

    This is a general statement and demonstration. There's not much I can add--v clear. This is knowledge as of 1977. Very right side of Alp.
    You might be interested in trying some of these on your friends.
    Note the problem of continuity in fiction.


    February 6. Whence Language? Why Literature? An introduction to evolutionary psychology and the problem of language.
    1. Pinker, Language Instinct, "Baby Born Talking," "Language Organs," "The Big Bang," chs. 9-11, pp. 262-369.
    2. Osborne, "A Linguistic Big Bang." Online: http://www.nytimes.com/library/magazine/home/19991024mag-sign-language.html
    3. Tooby and Cosmides, "Does Beauty Build Adapted Minds?" Handout
    4. Hart, "Cognitive evolution and the modularity of mind," unpub. Handout
    5. Miller, Review of Deacon, The Symbolic Species. Handout
    6. Arbib and Rizzolatti, "Neural Expectations." Handout

    A discussion question for next week: Why do we do poetic language? Rhyme, meter, assonance, etc. Form as defense. Read Dyn ch. again
    Use this in Whence, Why ch.
    Rhyme-surface displaces fm content.
    Cp. SF & verbality of jokes as forepleasure.
    The rug in the aisle
    Has plenty of pile
    But the rug in the hall
    Scarce any at all.