(Copyright © 2000 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )
The American neurolinguist Donald Loritz believes that
the neural bases of language began evolving hundreds of millions of years ago:
the fossil record of the Cambrian shows a sudden proliferation of species,
and Loritz believes the reason is that "neurons" had been invented, and new
species were possible that had higher chances of surviving.
Loritz retraces how the first living cell was born and how it structured itself
to Loritz retraces how the first living cell was born and how it structured
itself in order to function (feed, grow, reproduce) in the world.
Loritz views the neuron as a single-celled organism,
and the brain as a society of neurons.
When multicelled organisms evolved neurons to coordinate what the various cells
were doing, those neurons began to "resonated".
That resonation is what we call "memory".
Stephen Grossberg's "adaptive resonance theory" provides a convenient
computational tool to model the dynamics of short-term and long-term memory.
When coupled, the two Grossberg equations form a system that is non-linear
and that displays "resonance": changes in short-term memory affect changes in
long-term memory, and viceversa.
Loritz believes that these non-linear, resonant equations accurately describe
the equilibrium that rules in the brain, and do so at different levels of
The whole idea behind Loritz's reconstruction of the history of the brain is that complex neural processes recaputilate simpler neural processes, and, in general, life reuses at different levels of organization the very same ideas that succeeded at one level of organization (the principle of "self-similarity", which Loritz believes is ubiquitous in nature). In particular, Loritz subscribes to Gerald Edelman's neural darwinism, that neural maps in the brain evolve in response to environmental pressures, just like species evolve.
Loritz argues that rhythm is the "central organizing mechanism" of language. He shows that the sequence in which a child learns both phonology and morphology is based on the development of rhythms. Loritz shows that this phenomenon has a neural basis, and speculates that, again, it may recapitulate who language originated.
Rejecting Chomsky's generative grammar, Loritz wants to found "adaptive grammar", which is built around the "topic". Neurally, the topic is the most active resonance. Loritz claims that discourse and sentences are built around the topic: "syntax is ordered by topicality". This is also how grammar is grounded into reality: it is built around reality, a reality that is active in the brain in the form of a resonance.
Loritz notes that children learn to walk before they learn to talk. Their learning of talking improves exponentially after they have learned to walk. He argues that walking introduces a "rhythmic dipole" into the child's brain, which has the effect of organizing the child's sounds: "babbling gets rhythm and becomes speech".
For scholars involved in neurolinguistic computation this is an invaluable reference text. Which, of course, means that Loritz's book is very technical. It provides more information about the brain than the average reader will ever want to know. But Loritz has a sense of humour that makes the subject look lighter than it is, and continuously refers back to real-life phenomena, which keep the reader's awake through the jungle of technical data.