Tag Archives: Psycholinguistics/Cognition
7/14 How the Brain Accommodates Variability in Linguistic Representations

July 14, 2013
Aud C, Angell Hall

Organizer Contact: T. Florian Jaeger (fjaeger@bcs.rochester.edu)

Click here for workshop website.

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Language Variation and Thought

John A. Lucy – University of Chicago
Course time: Tuesday/Thursday 3:30-5:20 pm
2407 Mason Hall

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This course will explore research on the significance of natural language variation in shaping human thought.  The first unit of the course provides essential background by introducing historical and conceptual perspectives on the relation of language and reality that continue to shape our understanding of language variation and by surveying early work in anthropology (Boas, Sapir, Whorf) and psychology (Brown, Lenneberg, Carroll) linking language variation to thought.  Classic topics involving lexical forms denoting “color” and “snow” will be discussed critically.  The second unit reviews and contrasts prominent contemporary approaches from within anthropological linguistics, including both structure-centered approaches (Lucy et al.) and domain-centered approaches (Levinson et al.), as well as several influential approaches within psychology (Slobin, Boroditsky).  The discussions will highlight both continuities and innovations with respect to earlier work.  The third unit will review recent research extending these approaches to new populations including the deaf, young children, bilinguals, etc.  These approaches not only offer avenues to exploring underlying mechanisms but also open up ways of theorizing the centrality and trade-offs of relying on language in human thought.  The final unit will explore variations in the cultural and institutional regimentation of language-thought relationships, first in the areas of standard language as promulgated through education and literacy, and then within the research enterprise itself in areas involving practical translation, including comparative linguistic research.  Readings will be drawn from many fields but will emphasize classic works that emphasize comparative, developmental, and critical approaches and provide a foundation for further research.  Class time will be divided between general orienting lectures on theoretical issues and close discussion of key empirical works.

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Sentences and the Social: Representing Syntactic Variation

Julie Boland – University of Michigan
Lauren Squires – Ohio State University
Course time: Monday/Wednesday 1:30-3:20 pm
2333 Mason Hall

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Knowing the grammar of your language entails understanding how meanings map to syntactic structures, but these mappings are not strictly one-to-one.  We know, for example, that “Chris gave the book to Kim”  and “Chris gave Kim the book” are semantically equivalent and interchangeable. Likewise, we know “That car don’t run” is semantically equivalent to “That car doesn’t run,” but the two expressions are not interchangeable because the former is sociolinguistically marked. In this class, we explore the intersection of syntactic variation and sentence processing. Our approach assumes that knowledge of syntactic alternants, and of the social patterning of those alternants, is incorporated into our mental representations of grammar. As such, this knowledge should also be reflected in psycholinguistic theories. We will consider current theorizing that bears on this topic, and its limitations. Readings and discussion will address the following set of issues:

1. How do children deal with syntactic variation in the input?

2. How do adults represent and acquire syntactic variants that they themselves don’t use?

3. What is the role of language variation in sentence processing?

4. How do/can current models of linguistic competence and processing accommodate syntactic variation?

This course will be taught seminar-style, with students leading some of the discussions. The readings will focus on recent experimental research using a variety of online and offline methodologies. Students will work together to develop research proposals, which they will present to the class and write up as a final paper.

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