Linguistic information system
Based on observation of people’s linguistic activity, it seems to be safe to conclude (1) that a person’s linguistic system operates, e.g. for speaking and understanding, and (2) that it has been acquired and is further expandable, adaptable, and otherwise changeable.
We do not assume that different people have the same linguistic system, nor that a person’s linguistic system consists of rules, nor that it has a form prescribed by some pre-existing linguistic theory, and certainly not that it is genetically determined by a language gene.
The system is divided into stratal systems. At the high end of this system is content, the network of concepts; at the low end is expression, the phonetic forms. As you go higher in the system, you find larger and larger inventories: The number of morphemes in a language is quite large in comparison with the number of phonemes; the number of lexemes is even greater; and the number of sememes or concepts is larger still. These "emes", as understood by neurocognitive linguistics, are not items in the usual sense but just intersections of various relationships.
Neurocognitive linguistics attempts to understand this system itself, whereas other theories represent language as an abstraction based on analysis of the system's output, without any detailed attention to the actual human mind or brain.
The system is in itself static -- it contains no processes nor is their any motion in the system itself -- and it is thus independent from the processes which use it, such as that for converting from a semantic representation to speech. This type of independence is essential for a realistic model of such processes.
The linguistic system is like the highway system and the linguistic description like the highway map. As a highway system it is static: There is neither motion nor directionality. Cars can go on the highway in either direction, except for one-way roads. This is because the linguistic system is a non-process type of system; there is no motion in the linguistic system itself. The cars, the network impulses traveling in both directions, maintain two primary processes: decoding from expression to content, or what happens when one understands, and that of encoding from content to expression, or what happenes when one speaks.
When encoding is in progress, the activation of the network is proceeding at lower levels for the beginning of a sentence while it is still at higher levels for the end. Indeed, the first few words of a sentence may be completely produced from the bottom of the phonology while the remainder is still incompletely formulated at the lexemic stratum.
The structure of the system is what it is in part because of heredity. It has been built as it has because of the DNA. But a very important part of the structure is there because of the person's experience during his life. It would be a mistake to overemphasize either the hereditary or the experiential aspect.
- Lamb, Sydney M.. 2006. Being Realistic, Being Scientific. LACUS Forum 32: Networks.
- Lamb, Sydney M.. 2004. Language and Reality: Selected Writings of Sydney Lamb. London: Continuum.
- "Interview with Sydney Lamb" at LangBrain.