Is There a Language Module in the Mind?

Modularity of mind is the concept discussing whether specific modules in the mind work independently, or the mind is not organized in a modular way and it is an integrated whole. Since this concept is an unresolved issue, there is no one true answer to our question. However, I am going to argue for the modularity of the mind and use studies like Williams Syndrome, Stroop Effect and Pisoni and Martin’s intoxication study as supporter evidences and aphasic patients as a counter argument to discuss whether contradictory evidences can be reconciled or there is a stronger view. This essay will be relating to Fodor`s criteria of Informational Encapsulation, Obligatory Firing, and the Fixed Neural Architecture.

According to Elsabbag and Karmiloff-Smith (2004), Williams Syndrome (WS) is a genetic disorder related to neurological disorder, which is an abnormality in the characteristic of neurocognitive profile. Williams syndrome affects some cognitive abilities such as time and space reasoning, but it does not affect language. If other cognitive processes are being affected, and language remains intact, then this should be an evidence for the fact that language is separate from other cognitive processes. This also relates to the Fodor`s criteria of Informational Encapsulation which suggest that language is encapsulated within one unit/module. If information about language is encapsulated within one module then it is an isolated process because if all cognitive abilities were integrated, they would all be affected at the same time. And that is why WS syndrome does not affect language because the mind is modular and language is isolated from other cognitive processes.

The second evidence arguing for modularity is the Stroop Effect test, in which a person tries to name the colour of the word, but what the words say. Most of the people are having problem in reading those colours without being affected by what the words say. Therefore, it takes more time to read the colours. If the mind was integrated then there should not be a delay effect in the first place, because everybody would be working homogeneously at the same time. I assume that one module is doing the colour recognition and another is doing the language processing and this is why there is a delay effect. Therefore, if mind was an integrated whole then it would be working automatically without a delay. However, because it is modular, this delay is happening. This test may be an evidence for arguing against modularity because there is always a small yet significant percentage of people who are not affected by this test and can read the colours perfectly without a delay effect, but it is more convincing to argue for modularity in this case because the majority of people has this delay effect. Besides, a parallel line can be drawn between The Stroop Effect and Fodor`s criterion of Obligatory Firing. This criterion says that the mind operates in an automatic way, for example; if we get a language input we cannot suppress it. Therefore, The Stroop Effect illustrates that different cognitive inputs can affect one another because humans cannot control perceiving those cognitive inputs.

Pisoni and Martin (1989) illustrate that people are more likely to make speech errors when they have reduced cognitive capacity. We reduce our cognitive capacity when we are tired, nervous or intoxicated. This suggests that being drunk, tired and nervous have an effect on some cognitive processes, but on language. What is being affected is not the language input itself, it is the way one produces it, and basically the slowness of the sentence is being affected. However, the grammar and place of articulation are fine. It is true that words are coming out slowly, and in a tired manner, but they come out all right. That is why this reading suggests that the rate errors are quite low and language is almost intact. If alcohol affects other cognitive process, but it does not affect language and its inner mechanisms, then maybe language is isolated and encapsulated in one module which is not being affected by alcohol. Besides, this is also what Fodor`s criterion of Informational Encapsulation suggests. It suggests that cognitive processes are independent from each other. Therefore, I assume that the mind is modular, thus alcohol leaves language almost intact.

According to Pinker (1991), there are two areas in the mind corresponding with doing language, and those areas are approximate. One of those areas is called Broca`s area located in the frontal lobe of the left hemisphere. The other area is called Wernicke`s area, which is in the posterior temporal lobe of the left hemisphere of the brain. So, there should be a specific structure in the brain that is dedicated to doing language. This study relates to one of the Fodor`s criteria of The Fixed Neural Architecture, because this criterion suggests that the brain is divided into particular areas. And Pinker also points out that there are particular areas in the brain that are responsible for doing language. However, it is not the case that all of languages are taking place in these two areas because even though those areas are damaged; there are still areas left intact.

On the other hand, the fixed neural architecture is not entirely true, because there are some patients who can recover language abilities after losing the entire left hemisphere. Particularly children -because they have a high degree of neural plasticity- and some extent adults can recover language ability after big brain damage. To sum up this criterion, although we find a predictable set of places corresponds with doing language, the fixed neural architecture is not quite so fixed, because there is some flexibility in adapting language.

In conclusion, I assume that the mind is modular because if we become have to use our cognitive abilities at the same time, like as in Stroop effect, we are simply having trouble to do that because the mind is not integrated so it does not work homogeneously. Besides, because language is encapsulated in one module, it is almost not being affected by being tired or drunk, which suggests that the mind is modular. Therefore, it is more reliable to assume that the mind is modular even though we find a counter argument in Pinker`s reading. And the counter argument is not enough to argue against modularity because even though there may be a part in the brain predictably involved in language, not all linguistic abilities happen there because other abilities can be left intact after a big brain damage.


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