Salud Mental

The Nature of Language


José Luis Díaz Gómez


The present discourse of admission to the Mexican Academy of Language traces the biological foundations of human language in animal behavior, hominization, and neuroscience.

Animal intentional and symbolic expressions constitute evident foundations of human propositional language and thought. Through arduous training, individual parrots and apes learn, recognize, and express abstract symbols, while vervet monkeys in their natural habitat produce different cries to identify their predators. A communicative intention is furthermore suggested by social play, tactic deception, machiavellic intelligence, or calls to name individuals. Such capacities evolved toward Homo sapiens and its early pictorial representations show adaptive and innovative symbolic talents based on neuronal networks that generate cognitive resources in coordination with the environment.

Right-hand skills, tool production, symbolic language, and left hemisphere predominance constitute associated capacities emerging during the human split from the apes 2.5 million years ago. Even though the modularity of language engages specialized brain areas for expression and comprehension, meaning requires a wider connectivity. Processing verbal information involves the activations of neural networks genetically-disposed in a brain device that is conditioned by repetitive learning. Linguistic representation utilizes firing codes of neurons organized in such networks; their contents are determined by the origin and destiny of the neural pathways, while meanings emerge from the dynamic patterned process of the interconnections among brain modules. The human symbolic realm is detectable in the world of expression and culture because it is mediated by social processes tangled to brain processes through appropriate practices. Meaning is thereby conceived as a dynamic braid with an external or cultural loop, and an internal or neurosemantic loop.

The nascent contribution of biological, cognitive and brain sciences in coordination to humanistic disciplines to understand the nature of language is as revealing as it is challenging.

Language, communication, neuropsychology, culture