Colloquium (4/29/2015): Gregory Hickok (University of California, Irvine)

An Integrative Approach to Understanding the Neuroscience of Language

Language serves a specialized purpose: to translate thoughts to sound (or sign) and back again. The complexity and relative uniqueness of linguistic knowledge reflects this specialization. But language evolved in the context of a brain that was already performing functions that are broadly important for language: perceiving, acting, remembering, learning. From an evolutionary standpoint, then, we should expect to find some architectural and computational parallels between linguistic and non-linguistic neural systems. Our work has indeed uncovered such parallels. Language processes are organized into two broad neural streams—a ventral auditory-conceptual stream and a dorsal auditory-motor stream—functionally analogous to that found in vision. And the dorsal auditory-motor language stream uses computational principles found in motor-control more broadly. This approach to understanding the neural basis of language does not replace traditional linguistic constructs but integrates them into a broader neuro-evolutionary context and provides a richer, comparative source of data.