Hagoort, Peter The Uniquely Human Capacity for Language Communication: From POPE to [po:p] in Half a Second."
Peter Hagoort specializes in
the study of the neural underpinnings of language. In The Uniquely Human
Capacity for Language Communication: From POPE to [po:p] in Half a Second, he
points out that the sophisticated capacity for language unique to humans and
performed in various forms such as speaking, listening, writing, reading, and
sign language, rests on a tripartite architecture: coding for meaning, for
syntax, and for sound structures. A central component of language skills is the
mental lexicon, a part of declarative memory that stores the meaning, syntactic
properties, and sounds of roughly 40,000 words.
Hagoort has studied the
order in which information is retrieved from the mental lexicon - for example,
when one recognizes the image of a well-known person. Words are not discrete
units, each to be found localized in some small circuit in the brain; the
various components of the ability to use words are all stored differently.
First there is a conceptual selection and specification process, followed by
retrieval of syntactic information, and then by retrieval of a sound pattern -
all of this resulting in the utterance pope. The different retrieval
processes occur with high speed, and are temporally orchestrated with millisecond
One of the ways in which the
sequence of events involved in word retrieval has been studied is by recording
electrical brain activity, using a series of electrodes attached to the scalp.
The brain regions involved (mainly in the left hemisphere) have been localized
by means of neurological data and brain imaging techniques.
Hagoort notes that the
understanding of the neural substrate of language is an essential ingredient in
an understanding of the human person, not only because sophisticated linguistic
ability is unique to humans, but also because language itself mediates our
sense of self.
link | Printer-friendly | Feedback | Contributed by: CTNS/Vatican Observatory