Work on my book is coming to a climax and I am also taking a little family break to enjoy Columbus Day -- so I don't have time to do a full posting. But the latest issue of Biolinguistics is available online and has several papers that normally would inspire a post of its own. Check out:
- Ljiljana Progovac's Syntax: Its Evolution and Its Representation in the Brain. Does not really have too much about the brain but is an excellent account in Chomskyan terms of how to evolve syntax without a single, miraculous change. We've been following Progovac for years on this blog, and in this piece she pulls together many ideas we have seen her examine bit by bit.
- Friedemann Pulvermuller, Brain-Language Research: Where is the Progress? I've reported of Pulvermuller before as well. He and I had several good conversations in Barcelona a few years back. This piece reviews the relation between speech and brain systems. I was particularly interested in the system's double spike of activity: first an almost immediate response so speech in which the sounds of speech are presented as a series of specific parts of a language's phonology. This part is reflexive and requires little or no attention. Then almost half a second later comes a second wave of activation that does require attention as parts of the brain associated with a word are activated. Particularly important is the mix of empirical and nativist positions, "Our brain's most important structure for cognition, the cortex, is, structurally and functionally, an associative memory. Its neurons are linked by the way their synapses and links strengthen depending on their use, or correlation of activation. The cortex is not, however, a tabula rasa learning structure. It is equipped with a wealth of information." [p. 273]
- Peter J. Richerson & Robert Boyd, Why Possibly Language Evolved. As its title suggest, the paper reviews the thinking about why language evolved. Its conclusions are that a consensus is forming around the idea that language is the coevolutionary product of biology and culture, unique to humans because of its cooperative function. These positions will surprise nobody familiar with Babel's Dawn, but I always like to see people who say that after careful study the blog is right.