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Language in the Brain


  • 33 b/w illus.
  • Page extent: 244 pages
  • Size: 228 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 0.52 kg

Library of Congress

  • Dewey number: 612.8/233
  • Dewey version: 22
  • LC Classification: QP399 .S36 2010
  • LC Subject headings:
    • Neurolinguistics
    • Cognitive neuroscience

Library of Congress Record


 (ISBN-13: 9780521515498)

Language in the Brain
Cambridge University Press
9780521515498 - Language in the Brain - By Helmut Schnelle

Language in the Brain

Linguistics, neurocognition and phenomenological psychology are fundamentally different fields of research. Helmut Schnelle’s aim is to promote an interdisciplinary understanding of a new integrated field in which linguists will be competent in neurocognition and neuroscientists in structure linguistics. Consequently the first part of the book is a systematic introduction to the functional constitution of form and meaning organizing brain components. The essential core elements are perceptions, actions, attention, emotion and feeling. Their descriptions provide foundations for experience-based semantics and pragmatics. The second part is addressed to non-linguists and presents the structure foundations and formal presentations of currently established linguistic frameworks. This book should be serious reading for anyone interested in a comprehensive understanding of language, in which evolution, functional organization and hierarchies are explained by reference to brain architecture and dynamics.

HELMUT SCHNELLE graduated in 1957 with a degree in Physics. His Postgraduate studies between 1958 and 1962 included cybernetics, linguistics and philosophy, leading to the first doctorate in philosophy on Leibniz’ de Arte Combinatoria. In 1967 he achieved his second doctorate (Dr. phil. habil.) based on the book manuscript Prolegomena for formalization of levels of linguistics and became Full Professor of linguistics in Berlin. He is a member of Academia Europea (London), Honorary Member of the Cercle Linguistique de Prague and in 2000 became an Honorary Doctor of the University of Bielefeld, Germany. He was Editor of the journal Theoretical Linguistics between 1974 and 2000. Helmut Schnelle also organized the first conference about language and the brain, on the occasion of awarding an honorary doctorate to Roman Jakobson and has since organized a “MIND/BRAIN” Conference in Paris. He is now continuing work with the Ruhr Universität Bochum, focusing on studying language in the brain and its organization of neural networks.

Language in the Brain

Helmut Schnelle

Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, São Paulo, Delhi, Dubai, Tokyo

Cambridge University Press
The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge CB2 8RU, UK

Published in the United States of America by Cambridge University Press, New York
Information on this title:

© H. Schnelle 2010

This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place without the written permission of Cambridge University Press.

First published 2010

Printed in the United Kingdom at the University Press, Cambridge

A catalogue record for this publication is available from the British Library

Library of Congress Cataloguing in Publication DataSchnelle, Helmut.Language in the brain / Helmut Schnelle.p. cm.Includes bibliographical references and index.ISBN 978-0-521-51549-8 (hardback) – ISBN 978-0-521-73971-9 (pbk.)1. Neurolinguistics. 2. Cognitive neuroscience. I. Title.QP399.S36 2010612.8′233–dc22 2009052596

ISBN 978-0-521-51549-8 Hardback
ISBN 978-0-521-73971-9 Paperback

Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of URLs for external or third-party Internet Web sites referred to in this publication and does not guarantee that any content on such Web sites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.

To Marlene


Part I    Functional Neuroscience of Language Organization in the Brain
Chapter 1.The brain in functional perspective
Chapter 2.Organizations in complex organisms
Chapter 3.Neural perspectives of semantics: examples of seeing, acting, memorizing, meaningful understanding, feeling and thought
Chapter 4.Combination and integration of intelligent thought and feeling
Part II   Introducing Linguistics to Neuroscientists
Chapter 5.Introducing formal grammar
Chapter 6.Grammar as life
Chapter 7.Integrating language organization in mind and brain: the world of thinking and knowing, liking or hating other mind/brain/bodies
Chapter 8.Dynamic language organization in stages of complexity
Author index
Subject index


My ways to the studies of language were rather indirect. After having graduated in physics (1957) I read John von Neumann and Morgenstern’s Theory of Games and was fascinated by their exemplification of the modern axiomatic method. I asked myself the burning question how far mathematical theories and formalization could lead in disciplines that develop beyond the natural sciences. The question led me to studies of the humanities. I first concentrated on the philosophy of Leibniz’ de Arte Combinatoria and his Characteristica universalis and wrote my first dissertation thesis about Symbolic Representations used in modern science exemplifying, among other systems, networks of automata systems and the notations in Frege’s Conceptual Notation for Logic. Subsequently I studied Neo-Humboldtian linguistics and wrote my second thesis about its possible formalization in terms of information flow networks.

An interesting research position about theoretical and computational linguistics and their possible applications to machine translation led me to many cooperation visits to research institutes in Europe, the United States and Israel, and participation at the 1964 International Colloquium for Algebraic Linguistics and Automata Theory about linguistic models in Jerusalem. During my years in Berlin I formally compared the theoretical varieties of Generative Grammar with the more mathematical models of Montague Grammar. Changing from Berlin to the new University in Bochum initiated a new start, caused by organizing a colloquium in honour of the famous linguist R. Jakobson at the occasion of his honorary doctorate. Since Jakobson knew that our group had already studied the clear introduction and detailed descriptions to functional brain architecture in Popper-Eccles’ book The Self and its Brain he proposed the colloquium title: Language and Brain, hoping that we thus joined the new orientation he had described in a well-known New York University lecture. His words were “Progress in neurolinguistic research demands an even closer linguistic, or to put it more exhaustively, semiotic approach. The joint efforts of linguists and neurologists are summoned to suggest and open even deeper insights both into the structure of language with reference to the brain and into the structure of the brain with the help of language.”

In the following years I constructed dynamic information flow models and dynamic organizing language structures thus competing with early connectionism. Here also I agreed with von Neumann’s challenge that we need explanations of perception, action and thought based on architecture and neural compositions of organisms. Purely formal mechanisms or constructs like those of Turing or Chomsky are explicitly limited to proving feasibility in principle and thus not sufficient for understanding the complexity of human perception, thought and language. Turing did not contradict. In his self-criticism he even acknowledged that the precise notion of computation mechanisms implies principled constraints, which are relevant in various types of practical applications. He characterized one of them in an ironic mood: “Machines can’t do certain things such as enjoying strawberries with cream. But the reason is not that computers and brains differ in operative architecture. Possibly a machine might be made to enjoy this delicious dish, but any attempt to make one do so would be idiotic.” I believe with von Neumann that normally the architecture of our nervous system is made to enjoy strawberries with cream. Our difficulties in constructing corresponding machines should not prevent us from studying empirical neural organization that is relevant for generating this joy. I must say that the brain’s organization of joyful self-experience is indeed interesting, and sections in my book will study present knowledge about these phenomena.

Parallel to these studies of Turing’s self-critique my interest in complex phenomena was further encouraged by learning from my wife basic characteristics of creative invention and interpretation of visual art based on phenomenology and the neurocognitive details of visual thinking. Part of what I learned from the discussions or reading her books (1990 and 2002) is presented in particular sections of this book. Fortunately our common interests in neurocognition of vision and art arose at a time in which excellent new books were published and caused common studies over many years.

Let me now turn to the construction of the book. The discussion of language in the brain is confronted with three disciplines, studying language, studying the brain, both participating in phenomenological studies of mind. It is clear that for a comprehensive understanding of the same fact each discipline can contribute aspects that are appropriate in its own methodology, terminology and theoretical framework. In my view it is unfortunate that generally the disciplines remain separated. They shouldn’t! On the contrary, comparison of interdisciplinary characteristics would lead to mutually fruitful conceptualization. I think that the most appropriate ways to become acquainted with interdisciplinary correspondences is to present the book’s content in two parts. The first introduces to linguists phenomenologically or mentally structured neurocognition; thus functionally marking brain architecture and processes. The second part concentrates on certain conceptually defined structures of grammar, lexicology, meaning and pragmatic usage of expressions or utterances. Here also many components are functional linguistics in the sense that phenomenological analysis is brought into correspondence with structure description.

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