Doctor Willaim Marslen-Wilson

Lecture Abstract

Language in the Mind and the Brain: Insights from the Past Tense

The English regular and irregular past tense, exemplifying a sharp contrast between rule-generated and rote-learned linguistic forms, has played a prominent role in the cognitive science of language for over two decades, as a major battleground for disputes between symbolic/innatist and sub-symbolic/empiricist approaches to the organization of the human language system. The argument of this talk is that, although the past tense contrast in English is highly revealing about the properties of the system, this may be for different reasons than the original contrast between "rules and words". Drawing on behavioral, neuro-psychological, neuro-imaging, and cross-linguistic research, I will argue that there is good evidence that regular and irregular forms in English do engage different underlying functional and neural systems. However, this may reflect language-specific contrasts in morpho-phonological complexity, rather than any special property of the regularity/irregularity contrast itself.