Abstract The capacity in primates to master temporal–sequential constraints from the external world might provide a basis for accommodating similar constraints in language. While the neural specialization required for language clearly distinguishes man from the other primates, it is less clear to what extent this specialization constitutes a drastic neurophysiological divergence versus a variation on an existing sequencing capability. In an effort to address this issue, an anatomically structured neural network model, previously developed to reproduce complex sensory–motor sequences and the corresponding single-unit recordings from primate prefrontal cortex, is studied in a simple linguistic context. The model is presented sentences from a small language and demonstrates a simple capacity to “understand” and generalize at different levels. Interactions between variations on (a) the model architecture and (b) the target language structure agree with data from crosslinguistic aphasia studies. These results support the hypothesis that a brain architecture for nonlinguistic cognitive functions (in this case sensory–motor sequencing) can provide a basis for a general sequence processing component of linguistic function.