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What can the study of language contribute to our understanding of human nature? This question motivates research spanning many intellectual constituencies, for its range exceeds the scope of any one of the core disciplines. The technical study of language has developed across anthropology, electrical engineering, linguistics, neurology, philosophy, psychology, and sociology, and influential research of the recent era of cognitive science have occurred when disciplinary boundaries were transcended. The seminar is a forum for convening this research community of broadly differing expertise, within and beyond the University. As a meeting ground for regular discussion of current events and fundamental questions, the University Seminar on Language and Cognition will direct its focus to the latest breakthroughs and the developing concerns of the scientific community studying language.

Seminar Website

Professor Robert Remez

Eunice Hong

Meeting dates and locations are subject to change. Please confirm details with the seminar rapporteur.

Meeting Schedule

09/19/2019 Faculty House, Columbia University
4:00 PM
Performance Factors Influencing Competence with Linguistic Aspect
Lauren Wagner, Ohio State University


It is frequently argued that children are competent in some dimension of language, but that the expression of their knowledge is masked by performance limitations. However, in many cases, the evidence for these performance factors is indirect and the specific links between cognitive ability and linguistic forms is vague. The current work examines a well-documented under-extension in children’s language involving linguistic aspect, and directly examines how specific cognitive skills predict children’s performance with it. The results help explain a cross-linguistically common pattern in early language and further show how it is possible to use performance to illuminate the nature of competence.

10/17/2019 Faculty House, Columbia University
4:00 PM
Phrase frequency effects in language processing
Anna Siyanova-Chanturia, Victoria University of Wellington (New Zealand)


Recent years have seen growing interest in the mechanisms that underlie the on-line processing of multi-word expressions (MWEs). MWEs encompass a large set of sequences above the word level, such as collocations (strong tea), binomials (fish and chips), multi-word verbs (put up with), idioms (tie the knot), and so on. These sequences differ in a number of ways; however, what they have in common is that they are frequent, familiar, and, hence, highly predictable. In the present talk, I will review recent behavioral and ERP evidence attesting to faster processing and easier semantic integration of MWEs compared to novel language, and the activation of template matching mechanisms for uniquely predictable phrasal configurations.

11/21/2019 Faculty House, Columbia University
4:00 PM
Linguistic theory and its forensic applications to authorship, linguistic profiling, counterterrorism, law enforcement and forensic linguistically-enhanced threat assessment
Rob Leonard, Hofstra University

Tanya Karoli Christiansen, University of Copenhagen (Denmark)


Forensic linguistics is the application of linguistic theory to issues of the law. And, what in the law is not language? E.g.,
•Police interviews and interrogations, courtroom interaction, contracts, and secretly recorded speech all require forensic linguistic analysis of the total speech events, as opposed to only linguistic “smoking guns,” unfortunately the chief evidence in many cases. Since lexemic semantic content vastly underdetermines pragmatic meaning, contextual information is necessary for valid interpretations of any linguistic feature, from conversations to utterances to words and morphemes. The architecture of speech events, the possibly conflicting schemas of participants, their conversational strategies, and speech acts are of importance.
•Bribery, perjury, solicitation to murder, and threats are all crimes committed through the use of language. Threat assessment is a crucial methodology, particularly re school and other mass shootings.
•In cases of anonymous death threats and ransom notes, dialectology, sociolinguistics, and linguistic variation analyses can indicate a writer's regional and local geographic origin, education level, past travel, occupational training, etc., and vastly narrow the suspect pool, all the while guarding against disinformation. Once subjects are identified, authorship analysis can indicate or exclude likely possible authors.

02/06/2020 Faculty House, Columbia University
4:00 PM
A non-intentionalist metasemantics for context-sensitive expressions
Karen Lewis, Barnard College, Columbia University

03/05/2020 Faculty House, Columbia University
4:00 PM
The evolution and integrative biology of vocal learning
Asif Ghazanfar, Princeton University

Notes: Joint meeting with the Seminar on Cognitive and Behavioral Neuroscience
04/02/2020 Faculty House, Columbia University
4:00 PM
Erika Levy, Teachers College, Columbia University

05/07/2020 Faculty House, Columbia University
4:00 PM
Marie Coppola, University of Connecticut