Contributions of memory circuits to language:
the declarative/procedural model
Michael T. Ullman
The structure of the brain and the nature of evolution suggest that, despite its uniqueness, language likely depends on brain systems that also subserve other functions. The declarative/procedural (DP) model claims that the mental lexicon of memorized word-specific knowledge depends on the largely temporal-lobe substrates of declarative memory, which underlies the storage and use of knowledge of facts and events. The mental grammar, which subserves the rule-governed combination of lexical items into complex representations, depends on a distinct neural system. This system, which is composed of a network of specific frontal, basal-ganglia, parietal and cerebellar structures, underlies procedural memory, which supports the learning and execution of motor and cognitive skills, especially those involving sequences. The functions of the two brain systems, together with their anatomical, physiological and biochemical substrates, lead to specific claims and predictions regarding their roles in language. These predictions are compared with those of other neurocognitive models of language. Empirical evidence is presented from neuroimaging studies of normal language processing, and from developmental and adult-onset disorders. It is argued that this evidence supports the DP model. It is additionally proposed that “language” disorders, such as specific language impairment and non-fluent and fluent aphasia, may be profitably viewed as impairments primarily affecting one or the other brain system. Overall, the data suggest a new neurocognitive framework for the study of lexicon and grammar.