Language and Recursion

  • Francis Lowenthal
  • Laurent Lefebvre

Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-xix
  2. What Is Recursion?

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 1-1
    2. Stephen C. Levinson
      Pages 3-13
    3. Maurício Dias Martins, William Tecumseh Fitch
      Pages 15-26
    4. Michael C. Corballis
      Pages 27-36
  3. Non-verbal Communication Devices, Implicit Learning, Language and Recursion

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 37-37
    2. Philippe Fortemps, Francis Lowenthal, Vincent Wautié
      Pages 57-66
    3. M. Rohrmeier, Z. Dienes, X. Guo, Q. Fu
      Pages 67-85
  4. Emergence of Grammar in Human and Non-human Animal Communication

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 87-87
    2. Angela D. Friederici
      Pages 101-113
    3. Klaus Zuberbühler, Alban Lemasson
      Pages 115-125
  5. About Formal Grammars and Artificial Intelligence

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 127-127
    2. Robert Freidin
      Pages 139-147
  6. Philosophy, Recursion and Language

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 167-167
    2. Roger Vergauwen
      Pages 169-179
    3. Pierre Frath
      Pages 181-191
  7. Synthesis of the Main Discussion Sessions

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 193-193
    2. Francis Lowenthal
      Pages 195-228
  8. Back Matter
    Pages 229-232

About this book


As humans, our many levels of language use distinguish us from the rest of the animal world. For many scholars, it is the recursive aspect of human speech that makes it truly human. But linguists continue to argue about what recursion actually is, leading to the central dilemma: is full recursion, as defined by mathematicians, really necessary for human language?

Language and Recursion defines the elusive construct with the goal of furthering research into language and cognition. An up-to-date literature review surveys extensive findings based on non-verbal communication devices and neuroimaging techniques. Comparing human and non-human primate communication, the book’s contributors examine meaning in chimpanzee calls, and consider the possibility of a specific brain structure for recursion. The implications are then extended to formal grammars associated with artificial intelligence, and to the question of whether recursion is a valid concept at all.

Among the topics covered:

• The pragmatic origins of recursion.

• Recursive cognition as a prelude to language.

• Computer simulations of recursive exercises for a non-verbal communication device.

• Early rule learning ability and language acquisition.

• Computational language related to recursion, incursion, and fractals

 • Why there may be no recursion in language.

Regardless of where one stands in the debate, Language and Recursion has much to offer the science community, particularly cognitive psychologists and researchers in the science of language. By presenting these multiple viewpoints, the book makes a solid case for eventual reconciliation.


artificial intelligence and language basal ganglia and language differences in human and animal language fMRI in linguistics non verbal communication devices recursion and consciousness

Editors and affiliations

  • Francis Lowenthal
    • 1
  • Laurent Lefebvre
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Cognitive SciencesUniversity of MonsMonsBelgium
  2. 2.Department of Cognitive SciencesUniversity of MonsMonsBelgium

Bibliographic information

  • DOI
  • Copyright Information Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014
  • Publisher Name Springer, New York, NY
  • eBook Packages Behavioral Science
  • Print ISBN 978-1-4614-9413-3
  • Online ISBN 978-1-4614-9414-0
  • Buy this book on publisher's site