THEORY: language and the brain [was Re: Interesting article]
|From:||Thomas R. Wier <trwier@...>|
|Date:||Tuesday, July 1, 2003, 4:10|
[BTW, Mark: the list has special tags for topics of theoretical
(THEORY:), usage (USAGE:), chatty (CHAT:) and other kinds of
discussion so users may filter out particular types of discussion.
I highly suggest everyone use this feature.]
Quoting "Mark J. Reed" <markjreed@...>:
Precisely this webreport became a topic of debate on my
department's mailing list in the last two days. Here's what
they had to say about it:
I am so surprised to see this kind of claims. There are so many
inaccuracies in the report that I don't know how seriously we
should take it. Just to point out a few:
1. "'We were very surprised to discover that people who speak
different sorts of languages use their brains to decode speech
in different ways; it overturned some long-held theories,' said
Dr. Sophie Scott, a psychologist at the charity"
It is THE long-held and popular view that people who speak
"exotic" languages process speech differently.
2. "Intonation is important in Mandarin because it gives different
meanings to the same word. The word "ma" for example can mean mother,
scold, horse or hemp, depending on the tone. 'We think Mandarin
speakers interpret intonation and melody in the right temporal lobe
to give the correct meaning to the spoken word,' Scott said in a
First, tone is not intonation. Second, English uses melody just
as much, if not more, as Mandarin, to convey meaning. English
speakers even change pitch as fast as Mandarin speakers do,
according to our study.
I have several reservations about the accuracy of the report,
unless the findings of the research itself are equally question-
begging, but I cannot speak authoritatively. I am shocked by the
suggestion that there are languages that use only one side of the
brain for linguistic communication. I was under the impression
that lateralization had to do with activities which are more
analytical and usually (not always) situated in the left hemisphere
versus others that are situated in the right hemisphere. So the
first paragraph seems to have started on the wrong foot. I am not
shocked by the correlation/parallelism between melody and intonation,
but, as [a participant in discussion] points out, tones are different
from intonation, and I believe tones require analytic activities too.
I would not expect them to require less than segmental units of a
word. And why should any one have to think that only the segmental
part, but not the suprasegmental component, makes a word? But part
of the problem here is whether the report paraphrases accurately
what Dr. Sophie Scott said.
Thomas Wier "I find it useful to meet my subjects personally,
Dept. of Linguistics because our secret police don't get it right
University of Chicago half the time." -- octogenarian Sheikh Zayed of
1010 E. 59th Street Abu Dhabi, to a French reporter.
Chicago, IL 60637
> Apparently the right half of the brain is involved in understanding
> tonal languages (ignore the stupid misleading headline):
> I find this a bit surprising, since previous research has indicated
> that speech understanding is not a postprocessor on sound apprehension,
> but rather bypasses, and happens in parallel with, the normal decoding
> of sound inputs. So it's kind of strange that the part of the brain
> associated with nonlinguistic apprehension of melody is also used when
> understanding melodic speech.