Linguistics Language and Mind
When Tom Givón asked me a while ago what my chapter would be about, I said, “ Roughly, about the relation between language and theory of mind.” His laconic. The interaction between brain and language has been investigated by a vast of the brain in relation to language production and processing. A discussion of the connection between language and mind can provide a fitting introduction to our course, Linguistics Interest in the connection between.
What do the vast differences in structure mean for the study of the human mind? Do radically different languages indicate equally extreme differences in the mental habits of the people speaking them?
Brain, Mind and Language Functional Architectures
Or are the differences in language form superficial vehicles for the deeper unity of human thought? One scholar who attempted to answer this question was the American Benjamin Lee Whorf Whorf was a descriptive linguist who became fascinated with the connection between language and mind. By profession he was a fire inspector; his hobby was the study of Native American languages, particularly the Hopi language of the American Southwest.
He noted how the differences between Hopi and English grammar seemed to have striking parallels in the cultural differences between the Hopi tribe and European American society. English SAE has many tenses, spatial metaphors for time: And European culture is permeated with a preoccupation for time, history, record keeping. Hopi, on the other hand, has no grammatical tense; actions are expressed in terms of intensity or repetition. Time would have to be specified using adverbs like 'now', 'once', etc.
The Hopi had difficulty adjusting to the timetables and schedules of European-American culture. Whorf believed that the structure of their language was the root cause of their difficulty. Whereas other descriptive linguists had developed the concept of linguistic relativity, the idea that each language has its own unique structure which has a noticeable effect on the world view of its speakers, Whorf went a step further and developed the notion of linguistic determinism: In its strictest interpretation, linguistic determinism is the belief that language imprisons the mind.
This notion came to be known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis Because Sapir only held the concept of linguistic relativity, some people call the idea that language imprisons the mind the Whorfian Hypothesis. If this hypothesis were true--and it can easily be demonstrated that linguistic determinism is too strongly stated--then it would hold equally for all languages: This is far from the case. In fact, there is no broad evidence in support of any strong version of linguistic determinism.
Why is it that language structure has such a relatively minor effect on human thought? The main reason seems to be that humans are innately creative. And it is this creative principle that drives language; the particular form of language seems to be relatively superficial.
Let's examine the effect of human creativity on the use of language. It is obvious that human language changes in response to environmental and cultural changes. This is because humans are versatile and adaptive--in other words, "creative". This effect of creativity on language is evident in many ways.
As a result of natural human creativity, all languages are in constant flux. When new concepts appear, the existing language form does not prevent the speakers from grasping the concepts.
Instead, the language itself changes to accommodate the new concepts--and often changes very rapidly. Concepts that were once important may lose their importance and the language gradually loses some of the wealth of ways to express them example: Changes occur fastest in vocabulary and phraseology, slower in grammar.
Because humans are creative, any human language is capable of expressing any thought the mind can devise. This is precisely why the difference in individual language structure is not decisive in limiting the habitual thought processes of the speakers. Language form is merely a small hurdle on the way to new thoughts--not an insurmountable prison. Human creativity molds language into a pliable tool for expressing new thoughts.
This is why language is constantly reshaped by new experience. The form of language, in turn, has much less of an effect on thought patterns although verbal misunderstandings are obviously capable of causing problems.
Rather than stifle creativity, language is the most versatile vehicle for expressing our creativity. Nevertheless, the form of language is of great important to linguists for several reasons. Languages do not differ in terms of their creative potential but rather in terms of the level upon which particular distinctions are realized in each particular language. What is expressed concisely in one language requires a phrase in another language.
Such cross-language comparisons fall under a branch of linguistics called language typology. For the historian and the anthropologists, the form of language provides a special window into the past: Study a language--any language--and you will learn much about the history of the people who speak it.
You will also be taking a crucial step toward understanding the contemporary culture of the speakers. But, contrary to any strict belief in linguistic determinism, studying a language will not help you predict the future of the people who speak it.
The future will unfold with little regard for present-day language structure. The language will be shaped by that future, not the other way around. We all are drawn to language from our earliest years of childhood.
Experimental evidence, reviewed by Mehler et al. Even when trained to use communication systems, apes, dolphins or parrots do not master anything remotely approaching the power and versatility of human language.
One of the most obvious differences is the almost total lack of what George Miller [ 20 ] called combinatorial productivity — our ability to recombine words or syllables in new ways to derive entirely new meanings. And none of these communication systems have more than tiny amounts of syntax, whereas grammatical rules of one sort or another are universal in human languages a mathematical explanation — based on a joint thought -language architecture — of why animals do not talk and think as people do, is given by Perlovsky and Ilin in this Special Issue.
Language as a Governor of Human Behaviour and Brain Operations Language is not only means of communication and the basis for verbal, discursive thinking, but also an important means of governance of human behaviour. Language mediates different components of practical actions [ 21 ].
For example, the grammatical class of words affects visual analysis and motor control differently [ 22 ]. In other words, the system of words is a powerful factor which forms mental activity [ 15 ]. Inner speech 2 has been shown to be involved in such important processes for behaviour as verbal self-guidance and self-regulation [ 24 ], problem-solving [ 25 ], planning [ 26 ], and memory [ 27 ]. Some psychological disorders such as anxiety and depression are mediated by dysfunctional self-talk [ 28 ] for a review, see Ref.
Recent findings support the simulation based theories of language processing in an embodied framework 3and provide a strong reason to link findings from the cognitive neuroscience of language processing to the neurophysiology of eye and generally motor movement behaviour see contribution of Singh and Mishra to this Special Issue.
Heard or verbalized word creates a special dominant setting of integrated brain areas; this dominant setting constitutes a new integral subjective image and forms simultaneous modification of perception [ 1032 ]. These and many other observations point to the joint brain-thought-language functional architecture. For the elaboration of this issue see contribution of Benedetti, Marchetti, Fingelkurts and Fingelkurts to this Special Issue.
Mathematical modelling of joint thought-language architecture resolves long-standing issues as to how the brain learns correct words-object associations; and explains a contradiction between human ability for rational thoughtful decisions and the irrationality of human thinking see contribution of Perlovsky and Ilin to this Special Issue. Behind the word there is a collective public experience which is concentrated in the crystallized form of meaning [ 33 ].
Due to language humans can acquire a knowledge of each other and the experience of previous generations see contribution of Logan to this Special Issue. The existence of grammatical language structures which are isomorphic to action structures enables humans to perform mental experimenting and to acquire new knowledge mentally.
Brain, Mind and Language Functional Architectures
Language as an Organizational Factor of Ontogenesis of Mentation and Behaviour During ontogenesis new psychological systems are formed on the basis of verbalization of attention, memory, actions and thinking: New forms of human behaviour are originated on the basis of inclusion of speech formulas of past and present situations in a single focus of attention.
A review of experimental evidence [ 2 ] suggests that humans are endowed with a species-specific disposition to acquire natural language. And, finally, the work of Dehaene-Lambertz et al. A key goal of this Special Issue is to foster interaction among neuroscientists and linguists and promote the development of cutting-edge ideas related to research issues on Brain, Mind and Language Architectures.
Contributions from leading experts of the field provide a cutting-edge review of this challenging frontier of neuroscience.
We hope it will help interested researchers become familiar with research achievements and open new directions. It should also help to stimulate the interest of scientists to design new experiments and devise new concepts. Footnotes 1Theory of mind ToM — the ability to understand mental states of others such as belief, desire, intention and knowledge that enables us to explain and predict the behaviour of others.
The Making of Mind: A Personal Account of Soviet Psychology. Harvard University Press; a. Why is language unique to humans?. Proceeding of Novartis Foundation Symposium The Neuroscience of Language. Cambridge University Press; Towards a neural basis of auditory sentence processing.
Language, Linguistics, and Cognition. Stokhof M, Groenendijk J, editors. Handbook of Philosophy of Linguistics. Elsevier in press; 6. Hagoort P, van Berkum J. Beyond the sentence given. Phil Trans R Soc B: Rethinking the neurological basis of language. The Collected Works of L. Can language restructure cognition? The case for space.