Neurolinguistics. An Introduction to Spoken Language Processing and its Disorders

J. C. Ingram. Cambridge. Cambridge University Press, 2007. Pp. xxii + 420.

Reviewed by Francis A. Andrew
Colleges of Applied Science, Nizwa, Oman

Neurolinguistics: An introduction to spoken language and its disorders by J.C. Ingram with five multi-chapter parts is intended as an introduction for students of cognitive science, linguistics, and speech pathology.
The first section (chapters 1-4) examines foundational concepts and issues on the nature of language, language processing, and brain language disorders (aphasiology). The author explains that these chapters can compliment many standalone introductory courses in linguistics, psychology or neuroanatomy. In chapter 1 the author examines the theory of the coevolution of the human brain, a theory which contends that language developed out of a need for a representational system. He then treats upon an alternative to this theory which holds that language ability is based upon inherent neurological wiring. After dealing with the structural aspects of neuroanatomy, the author then proceeds to chapter 2 to look at language forms and meanings, phonology, syntax, semantics and various other design features of language which fall within the domain of the linguist. Ingram then devotes chapter 3 to relating language to neuroanatomical areas and explains the tools and methods employed by the neurologist in imaging these areas. In the final chapter of this section, the author examines the modularity versus integration debate and explains the two theories of modularity as expounded by Chomsky and Fodor.
In the second part (chapters 5-8) the author deals with successively ‘higher’ levels of language processing and their respective manifestations in brain damage: speech perception. Ingram considers the main three aspects of speech recognition in chapter 5. Here he explains how input signals are processed by the human auditory system, how words are stored in the speech recognition lexicon, and how these can be retrieved by human neurological processes. In chapter 6 he considers how speech perception differs from other forms of auditory perception and what the experimental evidence is for this. And in chapter 7, he explores lexical retrieval systems and how the human brain recognizes larger semantic units from basic phonological segments.  The author concludes the section with a chapter that provides a framework for evaluating clinical processing disorders which affect the ability of an aphasiac patient to perceive single words.
Part three of the book offers a discussion of word structure and meaning (lexical processing and its disorders). The author begins this unit by examining in chapter 9 how the meanings of words are represented in the human mental lexicon and how lexical meanings are assigned to words within sentence structure. The following chapter considers theories dealing with the semantic meanings of words and how these are related to wider structural contexts in which they are embedded. The final chapter of the section then deals with aphasic disorders in which word retrieval and word recognition pose a problem for the patient.
In part four, the author explores syntax and syntactic disorder (agrammatism; chapters 12-14) and discourse and the language of thought disorder (chapters 15-16). In the opening chapter to this part of the book, Ingram looks at the problems patients with brain damage have in utilizing the grammatical rules of language and then goes on to explore the connection between loss of syntax and sentence comprehension. In the following chapter he takes a close look at the two opposing theories (the modular theory and the interactive theory) which concern the role syntactic processing plays in the comprehension of sentences. And in the final chapter of the section, chapter 14, Ingram takes another look at the problem of agrammatism in patients suffering from Broca s aphasia and makes a critical evaluation of the theories related to receptive agrammatism.
And in the final part, part 5, the author speculates on unsolved problems and possible ways forward. The opening chapter deals with discourse, which Ingram describes as the highest and most complex form of linguistic representation and one where there is interaction with non-linguistic concepts and structures. The author states that the precise nature of a discourse model with regard to neurological representation is still an area into which a lot of research will have to be conducted. In the following chapter, Ingram examines discourse within the clinical context of discourse breakdown, a condition which occurs in patients suffering from Broca s aphasia. And in the final chapter of his book, the author considers the direction in which the theories of language are heading and the changing types of metaphor employed in explaining this uniquely human phenomenon. He additionally emphasizes that the current trend is veering away from analogies with the digital computer and towards what neurophysiologists term embodied cognition.
What makes Neurolinguistics: An introduction to spoken language and its disorders by J.C. Ingram so interesting is its attempt to get to the very roots of language itself by delving inside the human brain. Ingram’s book is significant in the field of English language teaching in that it serves to heighten awareness in the English language teacher of the neurological roots of language. Those involved in the areas of curriculum design and teaching methodology could well profit from this book by developing course materials and instructional techniques which take into account the neurological aspects of second language learning.