Language

Marta Kutas, Robert Kluender, Chris Barkley, Ben Amsel

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

1 Scopus citations

Abstract

HISTORICAL CONTEXT With the onset of the cognitive revolution in the 1950s, language came into focus as one of the main puzzles of human cognition, given that, at least prima facie, it is a behavioral phenomenon not found in any other species, and yet one which virtually every human child - even those with severe disabilities in other cognitive domains - acquires at a relatively early age. This is what motivated Noam Chomsky to look for general underlying - and presumably innate - principles governing human language development. This in turn inspired a broader nativist movement within the cognitive sciences that held sway for most of the latter half of the twentieth century. Thanks to the cognitive revolution and the European and American schools of linguistic structuralism that preceded it, we know a fair amount about the intrinsic organizational principles and implementational mechanisms of language. We know that language is a multilayered system, with principles that apply at different levels of organization: sound, the word, the phrase and the sentence, the entire text, be it written or spoken, and meaning. We further know that as a serialized signal that unfolds sequentially in time and space, language must rely on the support of motor, perceptual, and cognitive systems, including attention and memory, both working and long-term. Yet it is challenging to adumbrate the historical context for language research fully at this time, because the field is in the midst of a Kuhnian paradigm shift whose outcome remains uncertain. The interplay of linguistic principles, levels of organization, and mechanisms lies at the heart of several related but logically independent issues within linguistics and psycholinguistics commonly referred to as psychological reality, competence vs. performance, and modularity. The ongoing scientific revolution in language research must be considered against this background. One primary example is the slow but inexorable erosion of the formerly strict theoretical division between a language user’s inherent knowledge of his or her native language (competence) and its implementation in real time and space (performance; Chomsky, 1965).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationHandbook of Psychophysiology, Fourth Edition
PublisherCambridge University Press
Pages511-525
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9781107415782
ISBN (Print)9781107058521
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016
Externally publishedYes

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