The Boundaries of Babel, second edition
The Brain and the Enigma of Impossible Languages
The new edition of a pioneering book that examines research at the intersection of contemporary theoretical linguistics and the cognitive neurosciences.
In The Boundaries of Babel, Andrea Moro describes an encounter between two cultures: contemporary theoretical linguistics and the cognitive neurosciences. As a leading theoretical linguist in the generative tradition and also a neuroscientist, Moro is uniquely equipped to tell this story.
Moro examines what he calls the “hidden” revolution in contemporary science: the discovery that the number of possible grammars is not infinite and that their number is biologically limited. This will require us to rethink not just the fundamentals of linguistics and neurosciences but also our view of the human mind. Moro searches for neurobiological correlates of “the boundaries of Babel”—the constraints on the apparent chaotic variation in human languages—by using an original experimental design based on artificial languages exploiting neuroimaging techniques.
This second edition includes a new chapter in which Moro extends the exploration of the boundaries of Babel in search of the source of order with which all human languages are endowed. Reflecting on the emerging methodology that obtains physiological data from awake brain surgery, Moro shifts from considering where the neurophysiological processes underlying linguistic competence take place—that is, where neurons are activated—to considering the neuronal code involved in these processes—that is, what neurons communicate to each other. This edition also features a substantive new foreword by Noam Chomsky synthesizing the major issues theoretical syntax will face in the near future.
Andrea Moro has gained a unique position in formulating and implementing constructive approaches to these difficult and demanding tasks. He is able to address them with a deep understanding of modern linguistics, a field to which he has made major contributions of his own, and mastery of the relevant technology and its potential. This book is a lucid introduction to these exciting areas, superbly informed and imaginatively presented, with intriguing implications well beyond biolinguistics: for the cognitive sciences generally as well as for philosophy of language and mind.
Noam Chomsky, from the foreword
Andrea Moro masterfully describes the formidable challenges that linguistic structures pose to brain scientists. From Broca to Chomsky, from lesions to brain imaging, he authoritatively reviews 150 years of neurolinguistics and pedagogically guides readers through a carefully selected set of key experiments that shaped the field. A must-read for anyone interested in language and brain.
Stanislas Dehaene, Professor, Collège de France, Paris; author of Reading in the Brain and Consciousness and the Brain