Prosody Logo Greg Kochanski Prosody Logo

Linguistics can be part of the grand scientific challenge. There is only one, of course: understanding how the world works. Within that, one of the big puzzles is how properly organized collections of neurons somehow achieve the ability to think and reason. Language is a major part of that puzzle, one of the hardest parts we currently know of. As a discipline, linguists have the option to not play that game, but avoiding it would come at the cost of watching from the sidelines. And, linguistics does not operate in isolation. Neuroscience, computational neuroscience and psycholinguistics are also working on the problem of understanding cognition and language, working up from the lower levels. It is better to join the challenge and bring Linguistics' extensive knowledge of the phenomena of language to the table than wait for other fields to learn it from the other side. Half a century ago, when Chomsky was new, there was no real alternative to introspection. But, progress has been made. Experimental techniques like Magnetic Resonance Imaging and EMA can watch articulators move. Magneto-encephalograms, fMRI, and infrared diffusion imaging can provide clues to the activity inside the brain. In addition to these direct (though imperfect) views of the brain, reaction-time and eye-tracking experiments provide indirect hints on the processes that the brain uses. None of these techniques are ideal, but they are valuable, developing, and have already contributed to our understanding of the mechanics of language. Linguists should be comfortable with this kind of experimental brain science so they can competently evaluate it, understand it, and use it to illuminate linguistic questions. Lingistics is a broad field and some areas will not feel the inroads of brain science for decades yet, but the field is at a cross-roads. On one hand, we can take an expansive view and define linguistics by the subject of study: language. That view involves adopting scientists as they gradually enter our domain. On the other hand, defining linguistics by its traditional methods and techniques will lead to stasis.
[ Papers | | Phonetics Lab | Oxford ] Last Modified Sun Aug 19 13:00:59 2007 Greg Kochanski: [ ]