Seminars

  • Founded
    2000
  • Seminar Number
    681

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


Chair
Professor Robert Remez
remez@columbia.edu

Rapporteur
Leah Christman
lkc2137@tc.columbia.edu

Meeting Schedule

09/23/2021 Online Meeting
4:00 PM
In the Beginning There Were No Words
Herbert Terrace, Columbia University
Abstract

Abstract

The literature on the evolution of language has focused mainly on the origins of grammar. Yet grammar could not evolve without words, whose origins have received virtually no attention. I will describe the remarkable shift from animal communication to words and discuss their phylogenetic and ontogenetic origins. My focus will be on non-verbal emotional and cognitive relations between an infant and her mother during the infant’s first year that are crucial for the initial production of words. Those relations are uniquely human.





12/02/2021 Online Meeting
4:00 PM
How Gesture Facilitates Communication
Sotaro Kita, University of Warwick (England, UK)
Abstract

Abstract

When people speak, they often spontaneously produce gestures. Co-speech gestures can depict action, motion and shape as if to pantomime an action or to draw a sketch in the air; we call such gestures iconic gestures. How do co-speech iconic gestures contribute to communication? I will discuss experimental studies that indicate three ways in which co-speech iconic gestures can communicate. First, perhaps not surprisingly, iconic gestures can convey spatio-motoric contents to the recipient. Second, iconic gestures can bring the recipient's attention to a particular part of the physical context of communication, not unlike pointing gestures. Third, iconic gestures can change the recipient's impression of the gesture producer. More specifically, iconic gestures make the gesture producer look more competent and knowledgeable. Taken together, co-speech iconic gestures contribute to three important aspects of communication: contents, communication event, and sender-recipient relationship.





01/20/2022 Online Meeting
4:00 PM
The Language and Thought Interface in Development: Three Puzzles in Spatial Cognition
Anna Shusterman, Wesleyan University
Abstract

Abstract

How do language and thought interact during development focusing on the case of spatial cognition, I will share data from three lines of work-in-progress that present puzzles about the relationship between linguistic and non-linguistic representations. The three puzzles will focus on the development of spatial reorientation, spatial frames of reference, and axes of symmetry. In each case, there is initial apparent alignment between language and thought that disappears under closer examination. These findings pose challenges for simple hypotheses about the language-cognition interface, and they force a reconsideration of theories about the mechanisms that explain how spatial language and thought are connected in development.





02/24/2022 Online Meeting
4:00 PM
Experimental approaches to revealing shared biases in vocal communication across songbirds and humans
John Sakata, McGill University (Canada)
Abstract

Abstract

The structure and patterning of numerous learned behaviors are more similar across populations than expected by chance. Such “universals” in learned behaviors are prevalent not only in humans but also in non-human animals (e.g., songbirds), and interestingly, the structures of some universals are highly conserved across humans and non-human animals. Given the prevalence of such behavioral commonalities, it is important to reveal the mechanisms that contribute to the emergence of shared structures and patterns. My lab is investigating mechanisms underlying universals in learned communicative behaviors in songbirds. In this talk, I will discuss our recent experiments highlighting the contributions of biological predispositions in learning and motor production biases to the emergence of universal patterns in vocal communication in songbirds. In addition, I will highlight the various parallels in universal vocal patterns between humans and songbirds and the potential role of shared sensorimotor processes in generating these common patterns.





03/24/2022 Online Meeting
4:00 PM
Drawing on linguistics in cognitive aging and dementia research
Jet Vonk, Columbia University
Abstract

Abstract

Language is an integral part of our lives and the way in which we use language is often seen by others as an index of our level of cognitive and intellectual functioning. The better we understand the complicated domain of language in aging and health, the better our future applications will be for early diagnosis and prevention, validity of cognitive tests, and therapy and intervention for dementia. This seminar will discuss 1) the neurobiology and trajectory of semantic memory impairment in healthy aging and dementia, and 2) the identification of novel cognitive markers based on linguistic theory and advanced modeling techniques.





04/21/2022 Online Meeting
4:00 PM
The Role of Conceptual Form in Language and Thought
Sandeep Prasada, Hunter College, CUNY
Abstract

Abstract

Lexically expressible concepts typically provide multiple intricate and abstract perspectives from which to think and talk. As perspectives are not properties of the things represented, they give rise to puzzles concerning the representation, acquisition, linguistic expression and evolution of perspectives. In this talk, I provide a fragment of a formal system for generating the perspectives provided by a large range of kind concepts. The conceptual form of a concept encodes the perspectives provided by the concept by providing instructions on how to think about the contentful elements of the concept. Conceptual form is central to many linguistic and conceptual phenomena and is a necessary complement to the causal and statistical structure studied in most work on conceptual representation. Experimental evidence for the proposed conceptual form of kind concepts will be presented. Implications of the theory of conceptual form for lexical acquisition will be discussed.