Behavioral and Brain Sciences



The neural basis of predicate-argument structure


James R. Hurford a1
a1 Language Evolution and Computation Research Unit, School of Philosophy, Psychology, and Language Sciences, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH8 9LL, Scotland, United Kingdom jim@ling.ed.ac.uk

Abstract

Neural correlates exist for a basic component of logical formulae, PREDICATE(x). Vision and audition research in primates and humans shows two independent neural pathways; one locates objects in body-centered space, the other attributes properties, such as colour, to objects. In vision these are the dorsal and ventral pathways. In audition, similarly separable “where” and “what” pathways exist. PREDICATE(x) is a schematic representation of the brain's integration of the two processes of delivery by the senses of the location of an arbitrary referent object, mapped in parietal cortex, and analysis of the properties of the referent by perceptual subsystems.

The brain computes actions using a few “deictic” variables pointing to objects. Parallels exist between such nonlinguistic variables and linguistic deictic devices. Indexicality and reference have linguistic and nonlinguistic (e.g., visual) versions, sharing the concept of attention. The individual variables of logical formulae are interpreted as corresponding to these mental variables. In computing action, the deictic variables are linked with “semantic” information about the objects, corresponding to logical predicates.

Mental scene descriptions are necessary for practical tasks of primates, and preexist language phylogenetically. The type of scene descriptions used by nonhuman primates would be reused for more complex cognitive, ultimately linguistic, purposes. The provision by the brain's sensory/perceptual systems of about four variables for temporary assignment to objects, and the separate processes of perceptual categorization of the objects so identified, constitute a pre-adaptive platform on which an early system for the linguistic description of scenes developed.


Key Words: argument; attention; deictic; dorsal; logic; neural; object; predicate; reference; ventral.


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