The infrastructure of the language-ready brain
Hagoort, P., & Poeppel, D.
The infrastructure of the language-ready brain. In M. A. Arbib (Ed.
), Language, music, and the brain: A mysterious relationship
(pp. 233-255). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
This chapter sketches in very general terms the cognitive architecture of both language
comprehension and production, as well as the neurobiological infrastructure that makes
the human brain ready for language. Focus is on spoken language, since that compares
most directly to processing music. It is worth bearing in mind that humans can also
interface with language as a cognitive system using sign and text (visual) as well as
Braille (tactile); that is to say, the system can connect with input/output processes in
any sensory modality. Language processing consists of a complex and nested set of
subroutines to get from sound to meaning (in comprehension) or meaning to sound (in
production), with remarkable speed and accuracy. The fi rst section outlines a selection
of the major constituent operations, from fractionating the input into manageable
units to combining and unifying information in the construction of meaning. The next
section addresses the neurobiological infrastructure hypothesized to form the basis for
language processing. Principal insights are summarized by building on the notion of
“brain networks” for speech–sound processing, syntactic processing, and the construction
of meaning, bearing in mind that such a neat three-way subdivision overlooks important
overlap and shared mechanisms in the neural architecture subserving language
processing. Finally, in keeping with the spirit of the volume, some possible relations are
highlighted between language and music that arise from the infrastructure developed
here. Our characterization of language and its neurobiological foundations is necessarily
selective and brief. Our aim is to identify for the reader critical questions that require
an answer to have a plausible cognitive neuroscience of language processing.