LEC talk 19th May: Carmen Saldana

By Kevin | May 15, 2015

Tuesday 19th May, 11:05-12:30, DSB 1.17

Carmen Saldana

Categorisation: the backbone of language

A cognitive function underlying language and its essential combinatorial power is a modified antecedent of a ubiquitous process of categorisation and extraction of similarities among vertebrates — a process that requires complex capacities such as induction, generalisation and abstraction. Far from being domain-specific then, cognitive mechanisms that underlie the components of language such as syntactic structure are based on processes of categorisation. These processes do not only include differentiation or discrimination but establishing interrelations amongst categories both paradigmatically and syntagmatically. Previous work in cultural evolution has shown how structure can emerge from the trade-off between learnability and expressivity in human communication systems. Nevertheless, the constructions obtained so far have been mono-categorical and have only included lexical items. The first objective in the work that will be presented is to increase the complexity of the culturally evolved systems in the laboratory towards basic sentential syntactic structure including different syntactic categories. By increasing the complexity of the meaning space to include basic motion events participants are forced to categorise more elements and they produce signals of higher complexity which resemble sentence structure. We ran two Iterated Artificial Language Learning experiments in the lab: the first one included iteration and an artificial pressure for expressivity; the second one, iteration and interaction. Multicategorical constructions emerged from both conditions with at least basic lexical categories being established in constructions with sentence structure. Both the artificial expressivity pressure and interaction enforce expressivity in the evolving languages, but we will show how interaction leads directly to languages optimising contrasts between meanings, whereas the artificial expressivity pressure leads to arbitrary addition of complexity to the form alone. The second and most important objective of the talk will be to discuss ideas for further work where I want look at the cognitive processes behind categorical changes in elements of linguistic systems through grammaticalization, in the evolution of surface grammatical categories such as adpositions.