Wednesday, September 14, 2011

What is the human language faculty?

My mentor, Ray Jackendoff, has a new article out in the journal Language that mentions my research (as well as has some illustrations by me):

Jackendoff, Ray. 2011. What is the human language faculty?: Two views. Language 87(3):586-624

The piece explores the biological foundation of our capacity for language, and what components of cognition contribute to language understanding. My work comes in because he points out that several cognitive capacities involve the hierarchic organization of structures, including language, music, vision, events, and, yes, the visual narrative in comics. Here's the abstract:

In addition to providing an account of the empirical facts of language, a theory that aspires to account for language as a biologically based human faculty should seek a graceful integration of linguistic phenomena with what is known about other human cognitive capacities and about the character of brain computation. The present discussion note compares the theoretical stance of biolinguistics (Chomsky 2005, Di Sciullo & Boeckx 2011) with a constraint-based PARALLEL ARCHITECTURE approach to the language faculty (Jackendoff 2002, Culicover & Jackendoff 2005). The issues considered include the necessity of redundancy in the lexicon and the rule system, the ubiquity of recursion in cognition, derivational vs. constraint-based formalisms, the relation between lexical items and grammatical rules, the roles of phonology and semantics in the grammar, the combinatorial character of thought in humans and nonhumans, the interfaces between language, thought, and vision, and the possible course of evolution of the language faculty. In each of these areas, the parallel architecture offers a superior account both of the linguistic facts and of the relation of language to the rest of the mind/brain.

Keywords:
narrow faculty of language, recursion, parallel architecture, Merge, Unification, lexicon, consciousness, evolution

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