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Analytical Linguistics and Neurocognitive Linguistics

Analytical linguistics is a cover term that can be given to numerous schools of thought in linguistics (for example, "generative grammar", "lexical functional grammar", "cognitive grammar", etc., etc.) These analytical theories describe various properties of things that people say. Neurocognitive linguistics has different objectives: to discover the mental operations that underly the processes of speaking and understanding, the processes by which our brains learn to use language, and the brain structures that make these processes possible.

These two approaches are not in conflict or competition with each other. Rather, they complement each other. The following table identifies some differences between them. But it is a simplified account since 'analytical linguistics' covers a range of different schools of thought.


 Analytical Linguistics

 Neurocognitive Linguistics



  • Attempts to describe linguistic data.
  • Examines linguistic data as evidence for the structure of the cortical information system.
  • The object of investigation is either "language" (arguably an illusory object) or "the ideal speaker-hearer", clearly an illusory object.
  • The object of investigation is the neurocognitive system of the typical person.
  • Tends to view words and other linguistic units as objects or stored symbols.
  • Views linguistic units in terms of distributed connections in a network.
  • Views grammar as sets of rules.
  • Views linguistic information as a system of connections organized in a network.
  • Likes to analyze forms as much as possible, eliminating redundancy. (True for some versions of analytical linguistics.)
  • Recognizes that the human brain automatically learns complex composites as units, with all their redundancy.

Bottom Line: Describe properties of linguistic products (spoken and/or written).

Bottom Line: Describe the cognitive system which produces and understands and learns how to do so.

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This page was last modified on 3 July 2004.

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