The Center for Language Science, Institute for Mathematical Behavioral Sciences and Department of Cognitive Sciences present

"Normal Variation in the Behavior and Neurology of Language: Implications for Genetic Modularity of Mind and Brain"
with Tom Bever, Regents' Professor, Department of Linguistics, University of Arizona

Friday, May 2, 2014
12:00-1:30 p.m.
Social Science Plaza A, Room 2112

Recent discussions of the evolution of language involve two alternate views: (a) autonomous syntax rests on a unique genetically determined neurological structure; (b) what looks like “autonomous syntax” derives from other genetically determined brain systems, e.g., motor control, learning, communication, along with cultural elaboration and transmission. In this talk, Bever will review behavioral and neurological differences for language and other cognitive behaviors in two large genetically differentiated normal groups: The differences suggest wide normal variation in neurological organization. This enriches the discussion of the foundations of universal human cognitive abilities such as language.

The two groups are both right-handers who differ in their genetic load for phenotypic left handedness, computed by a genomic model based on four thousand handedness family pedigrees. Forty years of behavioral studies show that people with familial lefthandedness (FS+) access individual words more readily than those without it (FS-), while they access syntactic patterns less readily. New brain imaging research is bringing out both quantitative and qualitative differences in neurological organization for language and other cognitive behaviors. He will support this claim with imaging studies of lexical access and sequencing in language, and “ungrammaticality” detection in language and music.

The normal population differences in the neurological organization of language suggest that there is not a totally unique genetically determined linguistic organization for language. On one view, the representation of linguistic structural architectures is labile, exploiting different brain structures differentially as a function of normal differences in cerebral organization. On a second view, the variation in neurological representation reflects only non-structural aspects of language, its role in motor behavior, communication, learning and cultural interactions.

On either view, the fundamental computational capacity for language would then rest either in a single universal small location or circuit, resistant to variation, or be represented in physiological mechanisms other than specific locations or connections. Either outcome is consistent with exaptationist theories of language evolution.

(Collaborators: Daniela Sammler, Roeland Hancock, & Angela Friederici)

For further information, please contact Sylvia Lotito, slotito@uci.edu or 949-824-3344.

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