Human Language and Our Reptilian Brain: The Subcortical Bases of Speech, Syntax, and Thought

  title={Human Language and Our Reptilian Brain: The Subcortical Bases of Speech, Syntax, and Thought},
  author={Philip Lieberman},
  journal={Perspectives in Biology and Medicine},
  pages={32 - 51}
  • P. Lieberman
  • Published 1 February 2001
  • Psychology, Biology
  • Perspectives in Biology and Medicine
This work is an entry into the fierce current debate among psycho-linguists, neuroscientists, and evolutionary theorists about the nature and origins of human language. A prominent neuroscientist here takes up the Darwinian case, using data seldom considered by psycho-linguists and neuro-linguists to argue that human language - though more sophisticated than all other forms of animal communication - is not a qualitative different ability from all forms of animal communication, does not require… 

The evolution of language and thought.

  • P. Lieberman
  • Biology, Psychology
    Journal of anthropological sciences = Rivista di antropologia : JASS
  • 2016
Although the knowledge of the neural circuits of the human brain is at a very early stage and incomplete, the findings of independent studies over the past 40 years have identified circuits linking the basal ganglia with various areas of prefrontal cortex, posterior cortical regions and other subcortical structures that play a critical role in conferring cognitive flexibility.

Language as shaped by the brain.

This work concludes that a biologically determined UG is not evolutionarily viable, and suggests that apparently arbitrary aspects of linguistic structure may result from general learning and processing biases deriving from the structure of thought processes, perceptuo-motor factors, cognitive limitations, and pragmatics.

The Evolution of Speech and Language

Mutations on the FOXP2 transcriptional gene shared by humans, Neanderthals, and at least one other archaic species enhanced synaptic plasticity in cortical–basal ganglia circuits that are implicated in motor behavior, cognitive flexibility, language, and associative learning.

Language in our brain : The origins of a uniquely human capacity

vatore Gilij (1721–1789) in Ch. 17, Matthias Pache, Arjan Mossel, and Willem F. H. Adelaar remark on the very modern notions he proposed while documenting Indigenous languages of the Orinoco region.

Brain mechanisms of acoustic communication in humans and nonhuman primates: An evolutionary perspective

The proposed model assumes age-dependent interactions between the basal ganglia and their cortical targets, similar to vocal learning in some songbirds, and provides a solution to the question for the adaptive value of the “first word”.

On the nature and evolution of the neural bases of human language.

  • P. Lieberman
  • Biology, Psychology
    American journal of physical anthropology
  • 2002
Data from studies of Broca's aphasia, Parkinson's disease, hypoxia, focal brain damage, and a genetically transmitted brain anomaly, and from comparative studies of the brains and behavior of other species demonstrate that the basal ganglia sequence the discrete elements that constitute a complete motor act, syntactic process, or thought process.

The Evolution of Language: A Comparative Review

It is concluded that comparative data from living animals will be key to developing a richer, more interdisciplinary understanding of the authors' most distinctively human trait: language.

Formulaic Language in an Emergentist Framework

The human brain is a veritable hodgepodge of ad hoc assemblages of the old, the borrowed, and the new, gerrymandered in response to millennia of internal and external forces. It follows that human



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There appears to be archaeological and paleontological evidence for complex language capabil- ities beginning much earlier, with the evolution of the genus Homo.

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Carl Wernicke's theory has been the only one which has permitted the prediction of new phenomena, or has been able to account for new observations, and several remarkable disorders, such as isolated disturbances of reading and the symptomatology of the corpus callosum, are examples of the explanatory power of this theory.

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It is found that neuronal activity in the anterolateral neostriatum depended on the execution of syntactic sequences of grooming actions, the first direct evidence that the nestriatum coordinates the control of rule-governed behavioral sequences.

Language discrimination by human newborns and by cotton-top tamarin monkeys.

A habituation-dishabituation procedure was used to show that human newborns and tamarins can discriminate sentences from Dutch and Japanese but not if the sentences are played backward, which suggests that the human newbornS' tuning to certain properties of speech relies on general processes of the primate auditory system.

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In the debate over continuities vs. discontinuities in the emergence of language, sign language is not taken to be the antithesis but is presented as the antecedent of spoken languages. Several

The neural correlates of the verbal component of working memory

Comparisons of distribution of cerebral blood flow in these conditions localized the phonological store to the left supramarginal gyrus whereas the subvocal rehearsal system was associated with Broca's area, the first demonstration of the normal anatomy of the components of the 'articulatory loop'.