School of Languages, Linguistics and Film

Randolph Quirk Fellow 2019 | Professor Anna Papafragou (Delaware) | Public lecture

10 May 2019

Time: 11:00am - 12:30pm
Venue: ArtsOne Lecture Theatre

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Relations between language and thought

A foundational aspect of human cognition is the ability to parse our constantly unfolding experience into meaningful representations and map these representations onto language to be able to communicate with others. Understanding the nature and development of the interface between cognition and language requires a multi-pronged approach to the following key questions: What is the form of pre-linguistic representations? How do such representations make contact with language in both novice (child) and experienced (adult) communicators? Does cross-linguistic variation affect the way we think about the world? In this talk, I explore these questions focusing on the domain of evidence and information sources. People can access information through different experiences (e.g., visual perception, communication, inference) that themselves vary in reliability. Furthermore, natural languages encode information access through different devices (e.g., in some languages, through verbs such as ‘look’/’see’, ‘tell’/’hear’, ‘infer’; in others, through evidential morphemes that encode related kinds of meaning). In a series of experiments, I show that linguistic systems encoding evidence map onto basic distinctions in terms of how evidence is cognitively represented. Furthermore, the way learners acquire evidential language supports the presence of deep homologies between linguistic and non-linguistic structure. Finally, children and adults from different linguistic communities represent and remember sources of information in similar ways, despite cross-linguistic variation in the encoding of information access. Together, these results highlight novel connections between abstract epistemic aspects of language and cognition and bear on theories about how thought is related to language.