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Reviewed by:
  • Language in the brain
  • Zahir Mumin
Helmut Schnelle. 2010. Language in the brain. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Pp. xvii + 226. US $49.00 (softcover).

Chomsky (2002) and Turing and Copeland (2004) examine language through the traditional generative grammar approach, which is based on predetermined rules that permit logical analyses and assumptions about how human beings produce language. Schnelle argues against this approach by proposing the development of a new, unnamed interdisciplinary field that simultaneously examines language production and brain functions through neurocognition, formal and structural linguistics. The author fundamentally argues that the knowledge gap between neuroscience and linguistics arises from the lack of research about how neural network processes in the human brain produce semantic and pragmatic language structures that express common conceptualisations of thought, perception, and intentionality. The author organises the eight chapters of the book into two parts. Part I (chapters 1–4) focuses on how different components of neural networks function in the human brain. Part II (chapters 5–8) examines generative, cognitive, and phenomenological linguistic approaches in order to demonstrate how neuroscience enhances linguistics, and vice versa.

Chapter 1 examines various semantic deficiencies in general linguistic theories that are not directly associated with the cognitive functions of the human brain. This chapter also provides an in-depth analysis of the brain’s functional organisation and nervous system components. The author employs a semantic map of functionally interdependent disciplines—functional linguistics (mental states), functional [End Page 282] neurobiology (brain dynamics), and functional phenomenology (subconscious and conscious processing)—to argue that an interdisciplinary examination of these will lead to a more accurate understanding of human beings’ cognitive production. This argument clashes with Mountcastle’s (1998) theoretical assumption, which suggests that mental functions embody brain functions without concrete, subconscious cognitive production. Schnelle’s analysis of the functional organisation of the brain (its cortical and neural networks), and nervous system components (hypothalamus and thalamus) further substantiate the aforementioned interdisciplinary argument. This is because the fine structure tuning of the brain—its neurobiological development via the pruning of axons and synapses—includes a dynamic subconscious processing amongst the brain’s four cortex lobes through myelination, which triggers the development of Broca’s and Wernicke’s1 linguistic organisation and production areas.

Chapter 2 focuses on the different cortex components of the brain’s architecture using Fuster’s (2004) perception-action cycle model, and Schnelle’s multi-cycle perception-action model. The author argues that the combination of these two models demonstrates how linguistic form cognits and concrete meaning cognits are activated when the human brain assimilates sounds, creates meaning, and develops complex neurocognitive networks. The development of these networks is based on both internal neurobiological processes and external environmental processes triggered by different stimuli. The author supports the aforementioned perception-action argument by analysing Pulvermüller’s (2002) magnetoencephalographic schemata of word perception, which shows that the cortical clusters of the brain bind the relationship between sound and meaning. This binding allows humans to process language both consciously and non-consciously. Schnelle emphasises the need to differentiate between the dynamic cognit organisms that regulate human beings’ non-conscious processes and static cognit organisms which decipher conscious factual knowledge. This is necessary to acquire an integral understanding of the pragmatico-semantic correlation between neuroscience and linguistics.

Chapter 3 discusses phenomenological and neurological issues associated with animals’ and human beings’ abilities to perceive, produce meaningful thoughts, and perform physical actions. Schnelle favours arguments which illuminate the simultaneous gestalt and perception signaling of the brain’s frontal, parietal, and occipital lobe neurons when human beings see an action, and then physically mimic the same action. These arguments supplement Rizzolati’s and Craighero’s (2004) findings which show that anterior and posterior brain activity in macaques harmonise through cortical network cognitive connections (mirror neurons) when they see grasping movements, and then reproduce these same movements. Schnelle also argues that human beings’ saccadic eye movements cannot simultaneously encode all shape and colour details within the same visual field due to multiple fixation points registered by the fovea and retina periphery. This argument contradicts Jackendoff’s (2002) theory, which proposes simultaneous encoding of shape and colour details and therefore, questions the brain’s ability to...


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pp. 282-285
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