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Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

March 2020, Vol. 32, No. 3, Pages 435-445
(doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_01494)
© 2019 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
A Simple, Biologically Plausible Feature Detector for Language Acquisition
Article PDF (732.66 KB)
Language has a complex grammatical system we still have to understand computationally and biologically. However, some evolutionarily ancient mechanisms have been repurposed for grammar so that we can use insight from other taxa into possible circuit-level mechanisms of grammar. Drawing upon recent evidence for the importance of disinhibitory circuits across taxa and brain regions, I suggest a simple circuit that explains the acquisition of core grammatical rules used in 85% of the world's languages: grammatical rules based on sameness/difference relations. This circuit acts as a sameness detector. “Different” items are suppressed through inhibition, but presenting two “identical” items leads to inhibition of inhibition. The items are thus propagated for further processing. This sameness detector thus acts as a feature detector for a grammatical rule. I suggest that having a set of feature detectors for elementary grammatical rules might make language acquisition feasible based on relatively simple computational mechanisms.