"The Syntactic Brain."
Luciano Fadiga MD, PhD
Professor of Physiology
"My contribution will focus on the discussion of new hypotheses about a possible sensorimotor origin of language. In fact, although ideas that language and action could share some common neural substrates have been formulated by many and for a long time, they are usually referring to the similarity between motor planning and syntactic linguistic structures. I believe instead, and in this sense I will present some recent empirical evidence, that the similarity should be sought in the hierarchical structure and in the generalization ability that characterize the structural/functional organization of the motor system. So no planning (software) but computational potentialities of a sensorimotor structure (hardware) that has undergone a developmental soaring because of the evolution of the new capacity (starting in primates and exploding in man) of directly controlling individual spinal motoneurons. This direct control frees, on one side, the brain from the rigidity of spinal and subcortical motor synergies but, on the other side, imposes an exponential increase in computational complexity which could be recycled for cognitive purposes as well. It appears of particular interest in this regard the role of Broca's region, traditionally considered as the frontal center for speech production, but more and more considered as a venue for common syntactic processing in both action and language domains."
"Constructing a Construction Grammar Adequate for Modeling the Language-Ready Brain"
Michael A. Arbib, PhD
Professor of Computer Science
"As part of a long-standing effort to understand the evolution of the language-ready brain (Arbib, 2016; Arbib & Rizzolatti, 1997), I have sought to better characterize what it is that evolved – namely, the brain mechanisms that support the use of language by modern humans. In particular, the aim is to understand the mechanisms linking perception, action and language. An entry point into the study of grammar seems needed for this purpose, and I have sought to bridge between brain theory (Arbib & Bonaiuto, 2016) and construction grammar (Croft, 2001; Goldberg, 2013) in this quest. Unfortunately, even computational construction grammars comes in diverse forms and so this raises the question: What can each version contribute to the eventual emergence of a Neural Construction Grammar (NCG) whose computations are linked to those for perception and action in a neurally plausible way to form an integrated model NCG++ of the larger system, and what gaps remain to be filled? This talk will report on the progress in performing this analysis with four colleagues who are experts in Dynamic Construction Grammar (DCG, Peter Ford Dominey), Embodied Construction Grammar (ECG, Nancy Chang), Fluid Construction Grammar (FCG, Michael Spranger) and Template Construction Grammar (TCG, Victor Barrès) with, as stated above, concern for how grammar links to interaction with the external world. A word of caution, though – although all humans rest their use of language on a brain within a human body, I think it is misleading to say that all language is embodied. Rather, the issue, I suggest, is to ask how evolution and embodiment provide an embodied core from which abstraction could emerge (Arbib, Gasser, & Barrès, 2014)."
Arbib, M. A. (2016). Towards a Computational Comparative Neuroprimatology: Framing the Language-Ready Brain. Physics of Life Reviews, 16, 1-54.
Arbib, M. A., & Bonaiuto, J. J. (Eds.). (2016). From Neuron to Cognition via Computational Neuroscience. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
Arbib, M. A., Gasser, B., & Barrès, V. (2014). Language is handy but is it embodied? Neuropsychologia, 55, 57-70.
Arbib, M. A., & Rizzolatti, G. (1997). Neural expectations: a possible evolutionary path from manual skills to language. Communication and Cognition, 29, 393-424.
Croft, W. (2001). Radical construction grammar: syntactic theory in typological perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Goldberg, A. E. (2013). Constructionist Approaches to Language. In T. Hoffmann & G. Trousdale (Eds.), Handbook of Construction Grammar: Oxford University Press.
Lawrence W. Barsalou, PhD
Professor of Psychology
Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology
School of Psychology
"Recent use of voxel-wise modeling in cognitive neuroscience suggests that semantic maps tile the cortex. Although this impressive research establishes distributed cortical areas active during the conceptual processing that underlies semantics, it tells us little about the nature of this processing. While mapping concepts between Marr’s computational and implementation levels to support neural decoding, this approach ignores Marr’s algorithmic level, central for understanding the mechanisms that implement cognition, in general, and conceptual processing, in particular. Following decades of research in cognitive science and neuroscience, what do we know so far about the mechanisms that implement conceptual processing? Most basically, much is known about the mechanisms associated with: (1) features and frame structure, (2) grounded, abstract, and linguistic representations, (3) knowledge-based inference, (4) concept composition, and (5) conceptual flexibility. Rather than explaining these fundamental conceptual processes, semantic tiles simply provide a trace of their activity over a relatively short time within a specific context. Establishing the mechanisms that implement conceptual processing in the brain will require more than mapping it to cortical (and sub-cortical) activity, with process models from cognitive science likely to play central roles in specifying mechanisms at the algorithmic level."
Professor of Psycholinguistics
"Situated language processing research has examined the effects of rich contextual information (e.g., of world knowledge and of event depictions) on sentence processing using eye movements in scenes and event-related brain potentials (ERPs). From this research we have learned that all sorts of cues, including rich visual contexts, rapidly inform (expectations in) language comprehension. However, what guides (such context effects on) situated language processing is unclear. I will discuss cognitive biases as one important factor in the causality underlying situated language processing (i.e., the causal relations between language processing, visual attention to objects and events, brain responses, and associated cognitive states) and review first studies that have begun to provide insights into both such causality and cognitive biases."