The neurobiology of language: Relevance to linguistics

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E. Susan Duncan
Sarah Tune
Steven L. Small


The study of language is shared by a number of fields, including linguistics, psy­chol­ogy, and neurobiology. While the methods employed by these domains may over­lap, they differ in the focus of their scientific inquiry, and the unique perspective of each may inform investigation within the others. We conceptualize this re­lation­ship in the context of David Marr’s information processing theory, with neurobiology as the im­plementational level of language, and discuss the history of the neurobiology of lan­guage from early localizationist models to the present day.

Decades of electrophysiological and anatomical studies of the macaque monkey support the existence of dual streams for the processing of auditory information. More recent neuroimaging studies suggest that these streams are also present in humans, subserving speech perception and language comprehension. The de­velop­ment of high resolution brain imaging methods and brain stimulation has advanced our ability to study, in vivo, the structures and processes underlying the language net­work. For those linguists interested in studying language with consideration of the system that implements it, theories and concepts may now be meaningfully informed by neurobiology.


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Duncan, E. S., Tune, S., & Small, S. L. (2016). The neurobiology of language: Relevance to linguistics. Yearbook of the Poznań Linguistic Meeting, 2(1), 49-66.


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