One Step Beyond: Musical Expertise and Word Learning 10.1 A Cortical Framework of Speech and Language Processing 10.1.1 The Faculty of Language and its Neural Substrate

  • Elmer Stefan
  • Dittinger Eva
  • Besson Mireille


Speech and language processing constitute a uniquely human faculty that can be distinguished from other forms of communication in the animal kingdom. In fact, even though it has been proposed that different species possess the faculty of language in a broad sense (i.e. mimic, gesture, olfactory cues, etc.), only human language is characterized by a recur-sive structure (Fitch, 2010), the latter referring to the ability to produce an infinite number of phrases from a finite number of entities (i.e. phonemes and words). Until now, different evolutionary theories have attempted to explain the possible origin of speech and language processing in human beings, ranging from the expansion of brain size relative to body weight, genetics, brain asymmetries, anatomical characteristics of the larynx, and mirror neurons, to cultural and societal aspects (among others) (Fitch, 2010; Fitch & Reby, 2001; Hauser, 2002). From a linguistic perspective, speech and language processing can be subdivided into different subsystems including phonology, syntax, semantics, morphology, and pragmatics. Phonology refers to knowledge of the sound structure, syntax deals with the rules governing the combination and the order of words in a sentence, semantics addresses the meaning of single words and sentences, morphology is concerned with the structure of words, whereas pragmatics examines language in contexts (e.g. discourse, inference , interaction). Furthermore, depending on intonations and stresses, semantics can be influenced. In the last decades, both lesion studies and neuroimaging techniques have fundamentally contributed to a better understanding of the cortical organization of speech and language OUP UNCORRECTED PROOF-FIRSTPROOFS, Fri Jul 27 2018, NEWGEN 02-oxfordhb-9780198743187-part-2.indd 209 27-Jul-18 1:26:57 PM