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How Human Language Is, and Isn’t, Like a Computer Program

A key difference is that a language cannot be downloaded into the brain, like a program. It must be painstakingly acquired

Giosuè Baggio, professor of psycholinguistics at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, has mixed feeling about comparing the brain’s management of human language to computation. In some ways, it is a useful analogy: If we look at what the brain does while people perform a language task, we find some of the signatures of a computational system at work. If we record electric or magnetic fields produced by the brain, for example, we find signals that are only sensitive to the identity of the sound one is hearing — say, that it is a b, instead of a d — and not to the pitch, volume, or any other concrete and contingent features of the speech sound. At some Read More ›