Linguistic structure is woven into the fabric of human origins and lays the foundation for humanness more than any other trait. The biological, neuronal and social bases for language are immensely complex in the sense that a multitude of cognitive origins, their versatile networks of brain cells and their intricate interactions among one another form the critical core of the language ability.
Trying to understand the cognitive foundations of human language is a scientific endeavor that can best be described as convoluted and far-reaching. At the moment, researchers are following a mosaic-type approach where different disciplines are working together and complementing one another to help further our understanding of how language is anchored within human cognition. The notion of disciplines working in parallel and charting the linguistic brain from distinct perspectives, is critical when trying to develop a grand unifying theory – a complete mosaic - by connecting all linguistic functions and their cognitive foundations.

Naturally, any mosaic is an artistic undertaking where the composition of the pieces is entirely at the discretion of the creator. For this book, we have chosen a particular set of angles from which we will try to illuminate the study of language cognition, in the hope that - in their entirety - all 18 chapters will reveal the multidimensionality of linguistic ability. Our mosaic is modeled after the multi-faceted research interests of our mentor and friend Annemarie Peltzer-Karpf, a cognitive linguist who has devoted her life to studying language acquisition and development. Over the last decades, she has served as an advisor to many of her colleagues and students, nurturing scientific interests and furthering academic careers. We, the editors, are immensely grateful for her dedication to science and all she has done to help us in our academic lives. Many of the authors in this book feel equally indebted to Annemarie, some of whom have chosen to address personal messages to her in their chapters.

The mosaic nature of our book will be laid out in five general sections, which are composed of several chapters, all representing a specific approach to the study of language and cognition.

The first part, ‘Language Evolution’, sets the stage for brain-language studies by focusing on the evolutionary origins and phylogenetic development of morphological structures pertaining to language functions (Eva Maria Luef) and the implications that arise for the study of animal communication in relation to human speech and language (Robert Ullrich and Katja Liebal). Adolf Heschl advances the hypothesis that relaxing selection processes may lead to an unfolding of cognitive linguistic skills (in his case, referential communication), as opposed to direct selection of traits. Piera Filippi and Bruno Gingras explore the Darwinian idea of language evolution, which puts emotion, animal vocalizations, language and music at its center. The final chapter of this section addresses the question of the language-music overlap in the human brain by examining the neurodevelopmental disorder of congenital amusia (Manuela M. Marin).

The second part, ‘Language Development’, includes papers on the importance of the mother-infant dyad with regard to the cognitive and physiological development in chimpanzees (Iulia Bădescu) and human children (Monika Abels, Mariek Vanden Abeele, Toke van Telgen and Helma van Meijl). Annette Hohenberger describes chaotic itinerancy and self-organizing neural processes in the study of child language acquisition. Elliot Murphy suggests a departure from a static and localizationist approach to language processing in the brain and argues for a dynamic approach based on brain frequency couplings and travelling oscillations.

Part three, entitled ‘Language Learning’, focuses on how second language learning is achieved by the human brain. Margit Reitbauer surveys work on brain response measurements during linguistic experimentation and formulates suggestions on how to integrate these findings into a pedagogical framework. Further chapters discuss the age factor in language learning and how it impacts phonological perception and production (Milena Kong-Insam) and the role of neural plasticity and critical periods in learners of advanced age (Pia Resnik). This section concludes with a discussion of the language impairment dyslexia and what it can tell us about neurolinguistic processes (Sabrina Turker).

The fourth part of this volume, ‘Writing about the Brain’, deals with neurolinguistics in a particularly creative way. Peter Bierbaumer presents his analysis of the use of the words head and brain in Old English medical texts, and Georg Marko and Ute Wimmer discuss their application of discourse analysis tools to conduct an investigation into the cognitive-semantic concepts underlying the term brain in scientific texts.

The final part, ‘Cultural Aspects of Language Use’, consists of papers discussing various approaches to how language is shaped by cultural convention. Manuela Wagner, Fabiana Cardetti and Michael Byram take an intercultural perspective on language teaching methodology. Johannes Scherling's chapter focuses on frames and metaphors and draws a parallel between Noam Chomsky's criticism of political discourse and theories on language and ideology advanced by Charles Fillmore and George Lakoff. Wolfgang Viereck provides an overview of the origins of modern terms for weekdays and months in Indoeuropean language history (written in German). To conclude, Nancy Campbell reflects on the time with her former colleague and friend Annemarie Peltzer-Karpf.

This book is intended to help fill various gaps in our understanding of some of the major issues in the study of human language, cognition and culture by bringing together insights from different disciplines. Its target audience comprises scholars and students of all disciplines with an interest in the psychological and neurocognitive aspects of linguistics and beyond. The presented reviews, theoretical articles and research reports either explore, or are based on, a wide variety of recent and influential contributions to the study of language origins, development and the cultural significance of language use. We are aware that the fields of theoretical and empirical language studies are rapidly expanding, thus new discoveries are reported on a daily basis. Therefore, this volume can only represent a snapshot of the scientific theories and approaches that are currently being explored.

We are sincerely grateful to the authors who devoted much time and effort to crafting their contributions, drafting and revising their chapters to our exacting standards. We would like to extend a special thanks to the 54 international expert reviewers who advised our authors with their expertise and helped mold each chapter into its final version. We are indebted to Andreas Kolli for his thoughtful layout of this book. We would also like to thank Jong-seung Sun and Yejin Jang for their help with managing the administrative issues associated with this book project, and Joa Ahern-Seronde and Bruno Gingras for language editing. Finally, we acknowledge Seoul National University, South Korea, for generously funding our project with the award of the ‘Research Resettlement Fund for New Faculty’. In addition, we were supported by the ‘Overhead Fund 2017’ of the College of Education of Seoul National University. We were also financially supported by the Vice-Rectorate for Research of the University of Innsbruck.

This book – this mosaic – is the product of walking on a long and, at times, arduous road, and we truly thank all our contributors for patiently traveling along it with us.


Eva Maria Luef
Manuela M. Marin
Seoul & Innsbruck, July 2018