Neurocognitive linguistics

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The aim of neurocognitive linguistics (hereinafter NCL) is to construct a theory of the linguistic system of the human brain.


Theoretical Requirements

  • An account of how linguistic information is represented in the cerebral hemispheres of the brain.
    • On the large scale, NCL is interested in the various linguistic subsystems and where they are located in the cortex of the typical person, and how they are interconnected.
    • On the small scale NCL is interested in the details of how information is represented at the level of neurons and their interconnections.
  • An account of how the system operates.
    • The operations which make it possible for people to produce and understand speech.
    • The learning processes which enable the brain to acquire and enrich its linguistic information.

Achievements of NCL

  • The demonstration that the linguistic system is made up entirely of relationships. This finding was anticipated by Saussure and Hjelmslev, but they only proposed it as a point of view, never demonstrated that it could actually work.
  • The bridge NCL is building between linguistics and neuroscience. If successful, this achievement will allow linguistics to be integrated with the rest of science so that it will no longer be isolated from science.
  • NCL's theory of how the brain represents, uses, and learns information. If correct, this constitutes a solution to what many neuroscientists consider one of the most important problems of neuroscience.
  • NCL proposes explanations for many phenomena that linguists and psychologists have found puzzling. For example:
    • The ability of people to form new sentences they have never heard before (an ability described but not explained by generative grammar).
    • The ability of children to produce, by analogy, word forms they presumably have not heard since they are not part of adult language, like brang as the past tense of bring (compare sing and sang, ring and rang).


Originator Sydney M. Lamb first called it stratificational linguistics, beginning in about 1966, to draw attention to the fact that linguistic structure, according to the theory, is stratified, that is, it consists of several subsystems, which Lamb also called stratal systems. Later, Lamb realized that this theory was different from others in another very important respect: It aimed to understand the linguistic information system as it is represented in the brain, while other theories were trying to represent grammar as some kind of abstraction based on analysis of linguistic productions. Lamb re-labelled the theory cognitive linguistics in order to distinguish it.

More recently, since the term cognitive is now being used by other linguists for other theories even though they have not shown how their accounts of linguistic structure are related to the brain, Lamb started using the term neurocognitive linguistics to distinguish his theory from the other so-called cognitive theories.

Related Terms