Towards a computational(ist) neurobiology of language: Correlational, integrated, and explanatory neurolinguistics

Lang Cogn Neurosci. 2015 May 1;30(4):357-366. doi: 10.1080/23273798.2014.980750.


We outline what an integrated approach to language research that connects experimental, theoretical, and neurobiological domains of inquiry would look like, and ask to what extent unification is possible across domains. At the center of the program is the idea that computational/representational (CR) theories of language must be used to investigate its neurobiological (NB) foundations. We consider different ways in which CR and NB might be connected. These are (1) A Correlational way, in which NB computation is correlated with the CR theory; (2) An Integrated way, in which NB data provide crucial evidence for choosing among CR theories; and (3) an Explanatory way, in which properties of NB explain why a CR theory is the way it is. We examine various questions concerning the prospects for Explanatory connections in particular, including to what extent it makes sense to say that NB could be specialized for particular computations.

Keywords: Computation; Explanation; Levels; Linguistic Theory; Reductionism; Unification.