Defining the relation between linguistics and neuroscience

David Poeppel, David Embick

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The popularity of the study of language and the brain is evident from the large number of studies published since the early 1990s that have used PET, fMRI, EEG, MEG, TMS, or NIRS to investigate aspects of brain and language, in linguistic domains ranging from phonetics to discourse processing. The amount of resources devoted to such studies suggests that they are motivated by a viable and successful research program, and implies that substantive progress is being made. At the very least, the amount and vigor of such research implies that something significant is being learned. In this chapter, we present a critique of the dominant research program, and provide a cautionary perspective that challenges the belief that explanatorily significant progress is already being made. Our critique focuses on the question of whether current brain/language research provides an example of interdisciplinary cross-fertilization, or an example of cross-sterilization. In developing our critique, which is in part motivated by the necessity to examine the presuppositions of our own work (e.g., Embick, Marantz, Miyashita, O’Neil, and Sakai, 2000; Embick, Hackl, Schaeffer, Kelepir, and Marantz, 2001; Poeppel, 1996; Poeppel et al., 2004), we identify fundamental problems that must be addressed if progress is to be made in this area of inquiry. We conclude with the outline of a research program that constitutes an attempt to overcome these problems, at the core of which lies the notion of computation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationTwenty-First Century Psycholinguistics
Subtitle of host publicationFour Cornerstones
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)0805852085, 9781351538305
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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