1Chapter 1 Language Comprehension: A Neurocognitive Perspective
Within milliseconds of perceiving speech or text we recognize individual words from the tens of thousands we have learned, gain access to their linguistic properties, and integrate their meaning with that of the preceding words to compute an interpretation of the intended message. Language comprehension seems so rapid and effortless for most of us that the question hardly seems to arise of how this astonishing decoding operation is actually carried out. Nevertheless, common neurological conditions, such as stroke or forms of dementia, very often disrupt both general and specic aspects of the comprehension process, indicating the complexity of its cognitive and neural foundations. A complete understanding of language comprehension must therefore provide an account not only of the mental representations of language and the processes that operate upon them, but also of how these relate to the brain and to the breakdown of function following brain damage (i.e., a neurocognitive account). This chapter provides a historical overview of the ways in which the language comprehension system has been investigated and outlines the basis of our neurocognitive approach to language comprehension, illustrated by a clinical example.