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Beyond typology: experimental explorations of language universals

April 19 @ 12:00 - 13:30

Jennifer Culbertson

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.


April 19
12:00 - 13:30
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Salle des voûtes, St Charles
3 place Victor Hugo
Marseille, 13001 France
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