DEC Colloquium
LINGUAE Lectures 2022

Redrawing the lines between language and graphics

Practical information
08 February 2022



Graphic and verbal communication are typically thought to work in very different ways. While speech uses a conventionalized vocabulary that is acquired from children’s environments, drawing is assumed to reflect the articulation of how people see and think, with learning based on “artistic talent.” Yet, research from linguistics and cognitive science upends these assumptions, suggesting that these domains are actually not so distinctive. I will argue that learning to draw involves building up a visual vocabulary of graphic representations that is developed across a sensitive period similar to that of language. In addition, comprehending sequential images involves a grammar built of “parts of speech” and hierarchic constituents, and their manipulation evokes similar brain responses as the syntax of sentences. Finally, I’ll show the origins of Western cultural considerations about “art” and its instruction, and argue that these assumptions actually inhibit people from learning how to draw, while obfuscating the linguistic status of these visual languages. Altogether, this work heralds a reconsideration of graphic communication and its place within the linguistic and cognitive sciences.


This talk is part of the LINGUAE Lectures 2022,  organized by LINGUAE, a research group of Institut Jean-Nicod and one of the teams of DEC-Linguistics.

Neil Cohn