A comprehensive account of the neurobiological basis of language, arguing that species-specific brain differences may be at the root of the human capacity for language.
Language makes us human. It is an intrinsic part of us, although we seldom think about it. Language is also an extremely complex entity with subcomponents responsible for its phonological, syntactic, and semantic aspects. In this landmark work, Angela Friederici offers a comprehensive account of these subcomponents and how they are integrated. Tracing the neurobiological basis of language across brain regions in humans and other primate species, she argues that species-specific brain differences may be at the root of the human capacity for language.
Friederici shows which brain regions support the different language processes and, more important, how these brain regions are connected structurally and functionally to make language processes that take place in milliseconds possible. She finds that one particular brain structure (a white matter dorsal tract), connecting syntax-relevant brain regions, is present only in the mature human brain and only weakly present in other primate brains. Is this the “missing link” that explains humans' capacity for language?
Friederici describes the basic language functions and their brain basis; the language networks connecting different language-related brain regions; the brain basis of language acquisition during early childhood and when learning a second language, proposing a neurocognitive model of the ontogeny of language; and the evolution of language and underlying neural constraints. She finds that it is the information exchange between the relevant brain regions, supported by the white matter tract, that is the crucial factor in both language development and evolution.
Angela D. Friederici is Vice President of the Max Planck Society and Director of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Leipzig.
Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor and Professor of Linguistics Emeritus at MIT and Laureate Professor in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Arizona, where he is also the Agnese Nelms Haury Chair in the Agnese Nelms Haury Program in Environment and Social Justice. He is the author of many influential books on linguistics, including Aspects of the Theory of Syntax and The Minimalist Program, both published by the MIT Press.
In this masterful summary of decades of work on the neurobiological foundations of language, Friederici develops a comprehensive account of how this most complex of human computational functions is organized, providing a detailed and lucid perspective on the neuroscience of language. This is essential reading for anyone interested in a theoretically motivated and biologically sophisticated perspective on how language is represented and processed in the brain.
David Poeppel, Professor of Psychology and Neural Science, New York University; Scientific Member and Director, Neuroscience Department, Max Planck Institute of Empirical Aesthetics
No stone has been left unturned in Angela Friederici's masterful all-encompassing scientific analysis of the brain systems that allow human beings to communicate with one another. It is a delightful and enriching read for linguists and neuroscientists alike.
Cathy J. Price, Professor in Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London