Syntactic Structures as Descriptions of Sensorimotor Processes

Alistair Knott

Abstract


In this paper I propose a hypothesis linking elements of a model of theoretical syntax with neural mechanisms in the domain of sensorimotor processing. The syntactic framework I adopt to express this linking hypothesis is Chomsky’s Minimalism: I propose that the language-independent ’Logical Form’ (LF) of a sentence reporting a concrete episode in the world can be interpreted as a detailed description of the sensorimotor processes involved in apprehending that episode. The hypothesis is motivated by a detailed study of one particular episode, in which an agent grasps a target object. There are striking similarities between the LF structure of transitive sentences describing this episode and the structure of the sensorimotor processes through which it is apprehended by an observer. The neural interpretation of Minimalist LF structure allows it to incorporate insights from empiricist accounts of syntax, relating to sentence processing and to the learning of syntactic constructions.

Keywords


embodied cognition; generative syntax; neural models of language; reaching-to-grasp; sensorimotor processing

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