Meaning in the Brain

Meaning in the Brain

By Giosuè Baggio

An argument that the meaning of written or auditory linguistic signals is not derived from the input but results from the brain's internal construction process.





An argument that the meaning of written or auditory linguistic signals is not derived from the input but results from the brain's internal construction process.

When we read a text or listen to speech, meaning seems to be given to us instantaneously, as if it were part of the input. In Meaning in the Brain, Giosuè Baggio explains that this is an illusion created by the tremendous speed at which sensory systems and systems for meaning and grammar operate in the brain. Meaning, Baggio argues, is not derived from input but results from the brain's internal construction process. With this book, Baggio offers the first integrated, multilevel theory of semantics in the brain, describing how meaning is generated during language comprehension, production, and acquisition.

Baggio's theory draws on recent advances in formal semantics and pragmatics, including vector-space semantics, discourse representation theory, and signaling game theory. It is designed to explain a growing body of experimental results on semantic processing that have accumulated in the absence of a unifying theory since the introduction of electrophysiology and neuroimaging methods.

Baggio argues that there is evidence for the existence of three semantic systems in the brain—relational semantics, interpretive semantics, and evolutionary semantics—and he discusses each in turn, developing neural theories of meaning for all three. Moreover, in the course of his argument, Baggio addresses several long-standing issues in the neuroscience of language, including the role of compositionality as a principle of meaning construction in the brain, the role of sensory-motor processes in language comprehension, and the neural and evolutionary links among meaning, consciousness, sociality, and action.


$65.00 X ISBN: 9780262038126 376 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 29 color illus.


  • Baggio has provided an impressive synthesis of formal semantics with psychological and neurobiological accounts of processing meaning. In this way he has made a crucial contribution to improving our understanding of one of the hallmarks of being human: meaning.

    Peter Hagoort

    Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen, the Netherlands

  • The first book to offer a comprehensive and balanced review of everything we know about the neural basis of semantic processing, including a model that ties it all together. This task seems impossible at the outset, but Baggio's presentation is lucid and his proposal thought provoking. An important work that will shape our field for years to come.

    Liina Pylkkänen

    Professor of Linguistics and Psychology, New York University

  • Baggio advances a provocative set of hypotheses of remarkably broad scope. The goal is systematically to connect theories of compositional semantics deriving from logic and linguistics with brain structure and function. From Frege to fMRI, no stone is left unturned, no method ignored. A particular strength of Baggio's ambitious 'three-layered onion' proposal is that he puts his cards on the table: he is very explicit and very willing to be wrong. Whether one agrees or disagrees, Baggio provides rich and readable sections on a wide range of the complex, subtle phenomena that address meaning and the brain.

    David Poeppel

    Director, Department of Neuroscience, Max-Planck-Institute (MPIEA), Frankfurt, Germany and Professor of Psychology and Neural Science, New York University