How do you pronounce biopic, synod, and Breughel? - and why? Do our cake and archaic sound the same? Where does the stress go in stalagmite? What's odd about the word epergne? As a finale, the author writes a letter to his 16-year-old self.
Date: Thu, 26 Feb 2004 11:18:41 +1300 From: Kevin Mendousse Subject: Notions de neurolinguistique theorique
Author: Monneret, Philippe Title: Notions de neurolinguistique theorique Year: 2003 Publisher: Editions Universitaires de Dijon
Dr Kevin Mendousse, The University of Auckland, New Zealand
Philippe Monneret's book, written in French, includes an introduction (pp. 7-10), three chapters entitled "Principes de systematique du langage" (pp. 11-135), "L'apport des disciplines neurologiques" (pp. 137-206), and "Psychomecanique du langage et phenomenologie" (pp. 207-268), followed by a conclusion (pp. 269-272), a bibliography (pp. 273-282), and a table of contents (pp. 283-284).
The problematic, as Monneret states in the introduction, stands at the crossroads of linguistics, philosophy, and neuropsychology. He is concerned with the psychomechanics of language--also known as the (psycho)systematics of language--, the theory of language as developed by the French linguist Gustave Guillaume (1883-1960), and its relevance to aphasia as well as to Maurice Merleau-Ponty's (1908-1961) philosophy of language. The aim is to evaluate the credibility of Guillaume's anticipatory statement that decisive cognitive evidence from the fields of psychopathology and psychophysiology would soon corroborate the psycholinguistic soundness of his theory.
In that respect, the purpose of Monneret's book is to introduce linguists, neuropsychologists, and philosophers alike to what is now considered in France one of the mainstream schools of linguistics alongside "Saussurism, glossematics, functionalism or generative grammar" (p. 12), although it remains by and large a marginal theoretical model of language.
The first chapter, "Principes de systematique du langage", is divided into two subchapters entitled "Principes theoriques de la linguistique guillaumienne" (pp. 13-34) and "L'analyse des systemes de la langue selon Gustave Guillaume" (pp. 34-135). It offers an introductory account of Guillaume's psychomechanics of language, laying out the general scope of the theory, basic concerns, principles of enquiry, and key concepts, along with its most common applications to language (sub)systems.
The first subchapter thus displays the bulk of Guillaumean linguistics as a reaction against Saussure's oppositional structuralism. In particular, Guillaume argues for the need to reinterpret the standard Saussurean language-speech dichotomy in terms of an integral of successivity, stretched from potentiality (phonological level) to actuality (phonetic level) and where the transition from one state to the other necessarily implies the presence--overlooked by Saussure--of a temporal factor contained within the act of language itself. Guillaume's omnipresent concept of operative time ("temps operatif"), or the time it takes the mind to realise a time image, is discussed here, as is his redefinition of the linguistic sign and his distinction between acts of representation and acts of expression.
In the second subchapter, Monneret broadens his account of Guillaume's theory to its various applications to the systems and subsystems of language, such as that of the word, first in its more general sense (i.e. lexemes and morphemes), and then with particular reference to the substantive, the verb, the non-predicative parts of language, and the article.
The second chapter, "L'apport des disciplines neurologiques", comprises five subchapters entitled "Apercu historique" (pp. 138-164), "Le substitut anatomique du langage" (pp. 164-171), "Les voies et centres nerveux impliques dans l'expression orale" (pp. 172-185), "Definition et semiologie de l'aphasie" (pp. 186-192), and "Formes cliniques de l'aphasie" (pp. 192- 206). It provides the reader with a summary of the major trends and findings in the fields of neuropsychology, neurolinguistics and cognitive neurolinguistics.
The first subchapter briefly outlines the (pre)history of neuropsychology, from the pioneering work of the Egyptians, who described the first causal relationship between cerebral lesions and sensorimotor disorders, to both scientists and philosophers of Ancient Greece and the Middle Ages, to modern neurolinguistics and cognitive neurolinguistics. Monneret makes particular reference to the rise and fall of cerebrocentric and cardiocentric theories, the discovery of cerebral localisations, and the development of associationist models and global theories.
The second subchapter serves as an update to the historical synopsis by introducing the central nervous system and the cerebral hemispheres, and by offering a description of the different lobes, circumvolutions, fissures, and gyruses, which are all mapped out on a cross section of the brain (p. 167). The traditional conception of the language area as a division of the left hemisphere into the Broca area, the Wernicke area, and the inferior parietal lobe is discussed here, with reference to the underlying associative processes involved in the learning of nouns.
The third subchapter goes on to unfold the general organisational principles underpinning motricity, and presents the canals and nervous centres that are active during the various stages of phonation and verbal expression.
The fourth subchapter expands the discussion to include a definition and semiology of aphasia, describing a range of disorders in oral production and aural comprehension as well as in written expression and written comprehension, while the fifth subchapter reviews types of clinical aphasia with a strong emphasis on Broca's aphasia, Wernicke's aphasia, amnesic aphasia, transcortical motor aphasia, and subcortical aphasia.
The third and final chapter, "Psychomecanique du langage et phenomenologie", includes four subchapters entitled "Langage et pathologie du langage dans Phenomenologie de la perception" (pp. 212-243), "La periode intermediaire" (pp. 243-251), "Le langage et l'ontologie de la chair" (pp. 251-262), and "Systematique du langage et phenomenologie" (pp. 262-268). Here Monneret, in search of the epistemological principles necessary to the grounding of a theory of neurolinguistics, draws on Merleau-Ponty's unique philosophy of language to demonstrate its ready compatibility with Guillaume's view of the ontology of language.
Pointing to the motivations behind Merleau-Ponty's philosophy of language, the first subchapter cites his early criticisms of the age-old Western mind-body dualism. Merleau-Ponty rejects both the rationalist/intellectual accounts of humanity and the more empirical/behaviouristic attempts to define the human condition in favour of a phenomenology of perception centred on an account of the lived and existential body.
Tracing the development of Merleau-Ponty's thought, Monneret proceeds in the second subchapter to signal the influence of Saussurean linguistics and Guillaumean psychomechanics in the philosopher's original ideas, and to explain how language was soon to become for Merleau- Ponty the question at the core of his phenomenology, subsuming all others.
The third subchapter continues the discussion with reference to the later work of Merleau-Ponty, highlighting his transition from a philosophy of consciousness to a philosophy of Being based on his concept of the ontology of the flesh.
The fourth subchapter indicates the main lines of convergence between Guillaume's psychomechanics and Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology.
Finally, a short conclusion summarizes the main points of what Monneret regards as truly specific to the science of theoretical neurolinguistics, and posits these points as a rationale for considering theoretical neurolinguistics as a branch of linguistics rather than neuropsychology.
Monneret's Notions de neurolinguistique theorique succeeds in all its stated objectives. It very accurately and concisely lays down the fundamental units and concepts of Guillaumean linguistics and Merleau- Ponty's philosophy of language.
The descriptions and explanations are always to the point and self-contained, the writing clear and effective, making it easily accessible to the target readership. Monneret's strongest point in this excellent work is undoubtedly his ability to communicate often difficult concepts in terms that "speak" to the reader, while encouraging reflection through a discussion that is interesting, relevant, and often thought-provoking.
Having said that, the diversity, originality and complexity of ideas covered in Monneret's investigation of theoretical neurolinguistics will probably still prove quite demanding for the non-initiated reader, not to mention the terminology factor. It is regrettable, then, that the book does not include a glossary of terms used. Novice readers would no doubt have found this a welcome addition to an introductory text that (necessarily) comprises a certain amount of jargon. Similarly, the absence of any form of index will quite probably be a disappointment, especially to the more initiated reader.
Overall, the book is an insightful work that provides the reader with an overview of traditional observations of the neuropsychology of aphasia, of the foundations of Guillaumean linguistics, and of Merleau-Ponty's philosophical conception of the relationship between language and thought. The originality of Monneret's problematic lies in bringing these notions together in order to highlight the need for a theory of neurolinguistics that will unlock our understanding of language pathologies.
Unsurprisingly, given the scope of Monneret's subject, the reader is occasionally left feeling that some more philosophical notions could be developed further, such as the distinction in Guillaume's theory between the two underlying levels of immanence and transcendence in language, to cite but one example (pp. 38-39). Monneret's explicit purpose, however, is not to be exhaustive but rather to present a "vulgarization" (p. 34) of what he openly acknowledges (pp. 7-8) as a marginal, if not unknown theory of language to the wider scientific community.
And indeed, despite being accustomed to interdisciplinary practices, language pathology clinicians seldom seem to have access to Guillaume's theory, probably due to the predominance of the American cognitive paradigm within the interdisciplinarity of their field, while those linguists and philosophers familiar with the theory have no need a priori to specialize in neuropsychology. This book should therefore serve as a very useful complementary tool to linguists, philosophers, and neuropsychologists alike who are interested in the question of the biological inscription of human language.
The only drawback of the book lies in the fact that the initial ambition of the author, which was to promote "the relevance and vitality of Guillaumean linguistics" (p. 12), is somewhat limited by the language of writing itself. Until an English translation of the book is made available to the public, it is very likely that Guillaume's fascinating psychomechanics of language will remain a theory restricted to a relatively limited number of researchers.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Dr Kevin Mendousse is a lecturer in French at the University of Auckland (New Zealand), and holds a PhD in linguistics from the University of the Sorbonne (Paris IV, France), where he taught English phonetics and phonology as well as grammar and translation. His main research interests include articulatory and acoustic phonetics, speech perception, (morpho)phonological theory and mental representations, and, more generally, psycholinguistics and cognitive psychology.