Lecture series
LINGUAE lectures 2024

Beyond typology: experimental explorations of language universals

Practical information
24 April 2024

ENS, salle Berthier (U207), 29 rue d'Ulm, 2nd floor, 75005 Paris


LINGUAE Lectures 2024

We are delighted to announce that the 2024 LINGUAE Lectures will be given by Jennifer Culbertson (University of Edinburgh). 

Lecture 1

TITLE: Beyond typology: experimental explorations of language universals
WHEN: Wednesday, 24th April - 10.30am-12pm
WHERE: salle Berthier (U207), 29 rue d'Ulm, 2nd floor
ABSTRACT: Human languages exhibit striking variation. At the same time, certain linguistic patterns crop up again and again, while others seem to be extremely rare. What these tantalising observations tell us about human language is one of the most contentious questions in linguistics. Do similarities between languages reflect a special capacity for language that has evolved only in humans? Do they reflect more general features of the human mind, potentially shared with our ancestors? Are they just down to accidents of history? Traditionally, linguists have argued for one or another of these answers based on limited sources of evidence. For example, it is common to base claims on small samples of languages, case studies of how a handful of languages change over time, or examples of how individual languages are learned. In this talk, I highlight problems with these traditional sources of evidence and survey what I see as the solution: cross-cultural experiments. I show how this approach can be used to bring crucial empirical evidence to bear on how language is shaped (or not!) by the human linguistic and cognitive system.

Lecture 2

TITLE: A developmental and cross-modal perspective on cognitive biases in language
WHEN:  Thursday, 25th April - 11.30am-1pm
WHERE: salle de réunion, pavillon jardin, 29 rue d'Ulm
ABSTRACT: Language has been argued to be shaped by two extremely general cognitive pressures: simplicity and expressivity. There is ample evidence to suggest that these two pressures can help explain why languages exhibit compositionality, systematic structure and regularity. These are key features that characterise how meaning is mapped to form in all domains of language---from the lexicon to syntax. However, the vast majority of this evidence comes from studies of spoken languages. In addition, almost all experiment work exploring these pressures has been conducted on adults. And yet, it is clear that the capacity for human language is multi-modal and changes across development. In this talk, I discuss recent and ongoing experimental work exploring the role of simplicity and expressivity in shaping communication systems across modalities and development.