Posted - 14/02/2001 : 16:03:27
Department of Chinese, Translation & Linguistics
Institute of Chinese Linguistics
The Emergence of Grammar from Action
Professor Brian MacWhinney
Carnegie Mellon University
Time: 4:30 - 6:00 pm
Date: Monday, 26 March 2001
Venue: CTL Conference Room B7533, CityU
Grammar provides us with ways of expressing the process of perspective-taking, which allows us to understand the actions of others. We can communicate our alternative active perspectives on four levels: objects, spatio-temporal reference frames, causal action chains, and social relations. Language uses a system of deictic codes to shift between various sensory and motor experiences with objects. Spatio-temporal reference frames allow us to generalize the ego-centered perspective to object-centered and environment-centered reference frames. Causal action chains allow us to understand the actions of objects in terms of movements and changes of our own bodies. Social relations allow us to shift between the perspectives of different social actors.
We can comprehend utterances in either a depictive or enactive mode. The more thoroughly we engage enactive processing, the deeper the level of processing of the sentence. However, enactive processing requires the devotion of resources to deictic, attentional shifting. Grammar negotiates these demands by favoring some structures over others. These effects can be seen in areas as diverse as relative clause processing, c-command constraints on coreference, and split ergativity. Children's first attempts at learning word meaning and argument structure reflect the workings of these enactive, egocentric perspectives.
Recent work in single-cell recording, fMRI, PET, and neuroanatomy all point toward the importance of neural mechanisms that link perception to action as ways of supporting thinking as a cognitive simulation.
About the Speaker: Professor Brian MacWhinney is professor of psychology at Carneigie-Mellon University, currently visiting the Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences of the University of Hong Kong. He has worked extensively on the acquisition of morphophonology and syntax in Hungarian and other languages, advocating a competition model of language acquisition based on functionalist principles. He has also contributed to the crosslinguistic study of language processing, and the analysis of perspective in grammar. Professor MacWhinney has been a founder and director of the Child Language Data Exchange System (CHILDES), an archive of language development datafrom more than 30 languages, and architect of the Talkbank Project. He is the current President of the International Association for the Study of Child Language. His recent research is concerned with the language of children with focal lesions, neural networks and learning, as well as grammar and embodiment.
___________________ All are welcome ____________________