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Language and Cognition

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Interaction between language and cognition remains an unsolved scientific problem. What are the differences in neural mechanisms of language and cognition? Why do children acquire language by the age of six, while taking a lifetime to acquire cognition? What is the role of language and cognition in thinking? ...

Interaction between language and cognition remains an unsolved scientific problem. What are the differences in neural mechanisms of language and cognition? Why do children acquire language by the age of six, while taking a lifetime to acquire cognition? What is the role of language and cognition in thinking? Is abstract cognition possible without language? Is language just a communication device, or is it fundamental in developing thoughts? Why are there no animals with human thinking but without human language? Combinations even among 100 words and 100 objects (multiple words can represent multiple objects) exceed the number of all the particles in the Universe, and it seems that no amount of experience would suffice to learn these associations. How does human brain overcome this difficulty?

Since the 19th century we know about involvement of Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas in language. What new knowledge of language and cognition areas has been found with fMRI and other brain imaging methods? Every year we know more about their anatomical and functional/effective connectivity. What can be inferred about mechanisms of their interaction, and about their functions in language and cognition? Why does the human brain show hemispheric (i.e., left or right) dominance for some specific linguistic and cognitive processes? Is understanding of language and cognition processed in the same brain area, or are there differences in language-semantic and cognitive-semantic brain areas? Is the syntactic process related to the structure of our conceptual world?

Chomsky has suggested that language is separable from cognition. On the opposite, cognitive and construction linguistics emphasized a single mechanism of both. Neither has led to a computational theory so far. Evolutionary linguistics has emphasized evolution leading to a mechanism of language acquisition, yet proposed approaches also lead to incomputable complexity.

There are some more related issues in linguistics and language education as well. Which brain regions govern phonology, lexicon, semantics, and syntax systems, as well as their acquisitions? What are the differences in acquisition of the first and second languages? Which mechanisms of cognition are involved in reading and writing? Are different writing systems affect relations between language and cognition? Are there differences in language-cognition interactions among different language groups (such as Indo-European, Chinese, Japanese, Semitic) and types (different degrees of analytic-isolating, synthetic-inflected, fused, agglutinative features)? What can be learned from sign languages?

Rizzolatti and Arbib have proposed that language evolved on top of earlier mirror-neuron mechanism. Can this proposal answer the unknown questions about language and cognition? Can it explain mechanisms of language-cognition interaction? How does it relate to known brain areas and their interactions identified in brain imaging?

Emotional and conceptual contents of voice sounds in animals are fused. Evolution of human language has demanded splitting of emotional and conceptual contents and mechanisms, although language prosody still carries emotional content. Is it a dying-off remnant, or is it fundamental for interaction between language and cognition? If language and cognitive mechanisms differ, unifying these two contents requires motivation, hence emotions. What are these emotions? Can they be measured? Tonal languages use pitch contours for semantic contents, are there differences in language-cognition interaction among tonal and atonal languages? Are emotional differences among cultures exclusively cultural, or also depend on languages?

Interaction of language and cognition is thus full of mysteries, and we encourage papers addressing any aspect of this topic.


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