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Research Opportunities

Current opportunities for further development can be grouped under four headings:

1. Further Understanding of the Neural Basis of Language (and other kinds of information).
Beginning about 1990 it was becoming increasingly apparent that relational networks must have some relationship to neural structures. It was therefor important to bring findings from neuroscience into the picture and to develop hypotheses about this relationship. PATHWAYS OF THE BRAIN is the result of the first few years of exploration along these lines. It provides (1) linguistic evidence for relational networks and (2) hypotheses about how relational networks are related to actual neural networks.

Since the publication of that book there has been additional progress. Some of the newer proposals can be seen in the Power Point slides of Lamb's recent lectures in neurolinguistics (see "PowerPoint Presentations" in the menu) and in the Class Notes for the Neurolinguistics course at Rice University.

There is still much to be learned about the details of how relational networks are represented in neural structures and about how they operate. Some specific opportunities for study that can be done now along these lines are listed in Suggested Projects for the Neurolinguistics course.

2. Building Bridges to Other Reasonable Approaches
The approaches of M.A.K. Halliday and Adele Goldberg and others make a lot of sense and appear to be compatible with relational network theory. But this compatibility needs to be demonstrated. To the extent that it can be demonstrated, we have justification for taking their findings seriously in the sense that they have a relationship to brain structures. The relationship between relational networks and Halliday's Systemic Networks has been explored in a recent international symposium (click on "Programme Schedule").

3. Exploring Neglected Features of Language Structure.
The problem with most approaches in cognitive linguistics, including those of Goldberg and Halliday, is that they are concerned only or mainly with those features of language that are amenable to the usual modes of description -- that is, description in words, rules, and diagrams. On the other hand, those features of language that are particularly amenable to relational network description have simply been ignored. Why? Because the only way to understand them is by means of relational networks. So if you don't use relational networks, you can't understand them. An example of a phenomenon that can only be understood with the aid of a network notation is "Unintended Puns", first treated in a paper by Peter Reich and published in the LACUS Forum XI (1985). This topic is also treated in Chapter 11 of PATHWAYS, along with a number of other phenomena that can't be properly understood without using networks. See also Chapter 17 of LANGUAGE AND REALITY.

Much more work along these lines is needed. This work will develop the kind of understanding of language that only networks can bring about.

4. Extralinguistic Applications of Relational Networks.
Relational networks also reveal the similarities between linguistic structure and other kinds of semiotic structures, and indeed all of the human information system. We thus have a tool not only for demonstrating how language information is related to information in general, but also for gaining a better understanding of how our minds work in general, how thinking works, how we are often led to illusions instead of understanding when we try to figure out the world. This topic is touched upon in the last two pages of Chapter 1 of LANGUAGE AND REALITY (see also Chapter 13).

This is a vast area, full of rich and enticing research opportunities.

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(This page was last modified on 6 January 2011.)

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