Is deductive inference embedded in language?

Forthcoming in PNAS: "The boundaries of language and thought in deductive inference" by Martin M. Monti, Lawrence M. Parsons and Daniel N. Osherson

By way of introduction, here is how Martin Monti (who is a post-doc at  the Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Medical Research Council, Cambridge UK) describes his interest in Language & Thought: "Does language enable other higher cognitive functions? A signal characteristic of human cognition is its ability to construct an indefinite number of ideas by combining a finite set of elements in hierarchically structured sequences according to syntactic principles. This is most clearly displayed in language but not uniquely; for instance, reasoning, mental arithmetic and music are also structure-dependent. So, does the generative power of natural language provide a cognitive template for other types of structure-dependent cognition? What is the contribution of the neural substrate of linguistic competence in other aspects of 'higher cognition'?"

 

Here is the abstract of the article that contribute to answering these questions:

 

 

Abstract: Is human thought fully embedded in language, or do some forms of thought operate independently? To directly address this issue, we focus on inference-making, a central feature of human cognition. In a 3T fMRI study we compare logical inferences relying on sentential connectives (e.g., not, or, if … then) to linguistic inferences based on syntactic transformation of sentences involving ditransitive verbs (e.g., give, say, take). When contrasted with matched grammaticality judgments, logic inference alone recruited "core" regions of deduction [Brodmann area (BA) 10p and 8m], whereas linguistic inference alone recruited perisylvian regions of linguistic competence, among others (BA 21, 22, 37, 39, 44, and 45 and caudate). In addition, the two inferences commonly recruited a set of general "support" areas in frontoparietal cortex (BA 6, 7, 8, 40, and 47). The results indicate that logical inference is not embedded in natural language and confirm the relative modularity of linguistic processes.

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