What We Know About the Brain Bases of Language

Friday, February 15, 2013
Room 304 (Hynes Convention Center)
David Poeppel , New York University, New York City, NY
The study of the neural foundations of language processing reveals both straightforward and unexpected properties of brain function. Drawing on recent findings as well as some classical results, a few principles are highlighted that illustrate how the brain breaks down complex representational and computational tasks like speech perception and language comprehension. For example, by distributing the subroutines that underpin language processing in space (parallel anatomic streams) and time (concurrent processing on multiple time scales) and by deploying predictive mechanisms throughout - enabled by the subtle stored knowledge that each speaker/listener brings to language processing - the brain provides an architectural infrastructure consistent with representational primitives of a certain granularity. Focusing on these larger-scale architectural principles thus helps sharpen the linking hypotheses between the ‘parts list’ of neurobiology and the ‘parts list’ of linguistic investigation. The overarching goal of this style of cognitive neuroscience research is to develop explanatory theories about how neural systems form the basis for linguistic computation.