Chapter 9. Language as Infrastructure

If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.


Language and the Body

LANGUAGE IS PHYSICAL. WHEN we speak, we’re using our bodies to breathe and create the sound vibrations for articulation, not to mention gesturing and “body language.” When we write, we add to the environment physical information that we assume a reader will interpret.

Broca, the French physician for whom the language center of the brain is named (Broca’s area), argued that we have “not a memory of words, but a memory for the movements necessary for articulating words.”[180] We don’t recall language-expression as a disembodied set of abstracted concepts; it is rehearsed bodily action, eventually internalized over time. Recent research has demonstrated Broca’s argument: the more scientists observe the neural mechanisms at work when we use language, the more they find that language and bodily action are not separate systems, as once assumed, but part of a single connected system.[181] Even when we read silently, our bodies are firing neurons that we use when reading aloud.[182] This subvocalization has been used by NASA in new technologies with which users can give commands without having to literally say them.[183]

There is mounting evidence that sophisticated, symbolic language has been with humans since before we were Homo sapiens and that it has been a factor in shaping the evolution of our species. Patients ...

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