The Crack in Space

An image of neural pathways in the brain
taken using diffusion tensor imaging

The Crack in Space

Chapter Three—Boskopian Neurolinguistics

“At his new dig site, FitzSimons
came across a remarkable piece
of construction. The site had been
at one time a communal living center,
perhaps tens of thousands of years
ago. There were many collected rocks,
leftover bones, and some casually
interred skeletons of normal-looking
humans. But to one side of the site,
in a clearing, was a single, carefully
constructed tomb, built for a single
occupant—perhaps the tomb of a
leader or of a revered wise man.
His remains had been positioned to
face the rising sun. In repose, he
appeared unremarkable in every
regard...except for a giant skull."
—Lynch and Granger, Big Brain
1. Boskop neurolinguistics is a fairly new science—concentrating on the study of neural mechanisms in the Boskop brain that control the comprehension, production, and acquisition of Boskopian language.

2. As an interdisciplinary field, Boskopian neurolinguistics draws methodology and theory from fields such as neuroscience, linguistics, cognitive science, neurobiology, communication disorders, neuropsychology and computer science.

3. Researchers are drawn to the field from a variety of backgrounds, bringing along a variety of experimental techniques as well as widely varying theoretical perspectives. Much work in neurolinguistics is informed by models in psycholinguistics and theoretical linguistics, and is focused on investigating how the Boskopian brain can implement the processes that theoretical and psycholinguistics propose are necessary in producing and comprehending language.

4. Boskopian neurolinguists study the physiological mechanisms by which the Boskopian brain processes information related to language, and evaluate linguistic and psycholinguistic hominid theories, using aphasiology, brain imaging, electrophysiology and computer modeling.

5. Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) is a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technique that enables the measurement of the restricted diffusion of water in the brain tissue in order to produce neural tract images instead of using this data solely for the purpose of assigning contrast or colors to pixels in a cross sectional image. It also provides useful structural information about Boskopian muscle structure—including heart muscle, as well as other tissues such as the prostate.

6. Boskopian hypothesis: the essential requirement of Boskopian language, the ability to represent objects, actions, processes and emotions as abstract symbols is derived from the well developed brain capability to form internal "nested" categories (the use of "object-oriented programming" paradigm is intended). And this capability is the direct consequence of a fortunate mutation in the gene (or a small set of interacting genes) that controls the trimming of the untrained neural network.

7. So Chomsky's hypothesis regarding the physical existence of a "language organ" is not so weird. A part of the Boskopian brain is (by chance) trimmed perfectly to produce language just as a part of a cockroach brain is trimmed for flying. Neither needs a formal instruction to produce its miraculous behavior, nor a unique type of neurons. The uniqueness is in the structure of hierarchical sub nets, leftover from the trimming process (which is different from one part of the brain to another). As they say in the computer trade: "The Network is the Computer."

8. Which brings one to speculate that language per se is not so Homo sapiens-exclusive. Using standardized language to communicate complex ideas from brain to brain is. When a cat sees a dog she (probably) thinks she’s seeing a giant wolf: this is a wolf. Dogs and wolves don't like cats. Dogs can be dangerous. Better to deter then risk an attack. Get into aggressive posture and be ready to escape.

9. For us, humans, this internal monologue is processed by language, even when no external communication is required. The internal cat's language must be a lot more developed than her limited external communicative powers suggest.

10. If so, what makes homo sapiens' language unique is the "externalization" of its full capabilities. The cat communicates a very small set of "primitive" categories, using a small set of common signals. The cat never felt the "urge" to develop a more sophisticated communication means, because cats don't have an urge to share their mysterious thoughts.

11. Homo sapiens pushed the envelope of "proto language" to levels unseen before as a part of a novel social structure, based on their enhanced
"intuitive psychologist" capability. Human excel (so we like to believe) at the art of understanding what goes on in other brains—they even continuously run internal, unspoken, scripts of dialogues with imaginary people not present.

12. Spoken language is just the next—almost obvious—step up the ladder. Standardize the expression of the full range of internal categories and you gain the ability to communicate every idea that occupies your brain. The most suitable mechanism available to homo sapiens was the (relatively) new auditory apparatus that emerged in the windpipe after it took to walking upright.

13. Could the neurolinguistics of the Boskopians be any different? With their expanded frontal lobes—what other neurolinguistic mechanisms / processes were open to them? Is there such a thing as tele-neurolinguistic communication?

14. Would the Boskopian expanded cortex enable something like our diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) techniques?

15. Much work in Boskopian neurolinguistics involves testing and evaluating theories put forth by psycholinguists and theoretical linguists. In general, theoretical linguists propose models to explain the structure of Boskopian language and how Boskopian language information is organized, psycholinguists propose models and algorithms to explain how Boskopian language information is processed in the mind, and neurolinguists analyze brain activity to infer how biological structures (such as neurons) carry out those psycholinguistic Boskopian processing algorithms.

16. For example, experiments in Boskopian sentence processing have used the ELAN, N400 and P600 brain responses to examine how Boskopian physiological brain responses reflect the different predictions of sentence processing models put forth by psycholinguists, such as Janet Fodor and Lyn Frazier's "serial" model, and Theo Vosse and Gerard Kempen's "Unification model." Neurolinguists can also make new predictions about the structure and organization of Boskopian language based on insights about the physiology of the brain, by "generalizing from the knowledge of neurological structures to language structure.

17. Much work in Boskopian linguistics has, like Broca's and Wernicke's early studies, investigated the locations of specific Boskopian language “modules” within the brain. Research questions include what course Boskopian language information follows through the brain as it is processed, whether or not particular areas specialize in processing particular sorts of information, how different Boskopian brain regions interact with one another in language processing, and how the locations of brain activation differs when a Boskopian or human subject is producing or perceiving a language other than his or her first language.

18. Another area of Boskopian neurolinguistics literature involves the use of electrophysiological techniques to analyze the rapid processing of language in time. The temporal ordering of specific peaks in brain activity may reflect discrete computational processes that the brain undergoes during language processing; for example, one neurolinguistic theory of sentence parsing proposes that three brain responses (the the ELAN, N400 and P600) are products of three different steps in syntactic and semantic processing.

19. Another topic is the relationship between Boskopian brain structures and language acquisition. Research in first language acquisition has already established that infants from all linguistic environments go through similar and predictable stages (such as babbling), and some neurolinguistics research attempts to find correlations between stages of language development and stages of brain development, while other research investigates the physical changes (known as neuroplasticity) that the brain undergoes during second language acquisition, when humans learn the new Boskopian language.

20. Boskopian neuroimaging—since one of the focuses of this field is the testing of linguistic and psycholinguistic models, the technology used for neuroimaging experiments is highly relevant to the study of Boskopian neurolinguistics. Modern brain imaging techniques have contributed greatly to a growing understanding of the anatomical organization of linguistic functions. Brain imaging methods used in neurolinguistics may be classified into hemodynamic methods, electrophysiological methods, and methods that stimulate the Boskopian cortex directly.

21. In most Boskopian neurolinguistics experiments, subjects do not simply sit and listen to or watch stimuli, but also are instructed to perform some sort of task in response to the stimuli. Subjects perform these tasks while recordings (electrophysiological or hemodynamic) are being taken, usually in order to ensure that they are paying attention to the stimuli. At least one study has suggested that the task the subject does has an effect on the brain responses and the results of the experiment.

22. For example, the lexical decision task which involves subjects seeing or hearing an isolated Boskopian word and answering whether or not it is a real word. It is frequently used in priming studies, since subjects are known to make a lexical decision more quickly if a word has been primed by a related word (as in "Peke" priming "danger").

Further Reading:

Ahlsén, Elisabeth (2006). Introduciton to Boskopian Neurolinguistics. John Benjamins Publishing Company. pp. 212. ISBN 9027232334.
Moro, Andrea (2008). The Boundaries of Babel. The Brain and the Enigma of Boskovian Language. MIT Press. pp. 257. ISBN 13: 978-0-262-13498-9.
Stemmer, Brigitte; Harry A. Whitaker (1998). Handbook of Boskopian Neurolinguistics. Academic Press. pp. 788. ISBN 0126660557.

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