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ASL Lecture Series, Annemarie Kocab
Abstract: All human societies have languages capable of expressing the richness of human thought. To what extent is this achievement an historical accomplishment, similar to mathematics or science, and to what extent does it rely on our evolved cognitive capacities? I study these questions by looking at language creation in different communities, including Nicaraguan Sign Language (a new language only 50 years old), homesign systems, and laboratory-created communication systems. I will present results on how a new language comes to have recursion and quantifiers like “some” and “all." In both cases, I find evidence for rapid emergence of linguistic structure within a few generations. One possible explanation for these findings is that features that emerge early are those that reflect underlying shared semantic structures that are universal (or nearly) in languages. In contrast, the features that emerge later (e.g., grammatical morphology) may be those that vary across languages and require convergence and iterated learning.

Bio: Dr. Annemarie Kocab is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Departments of Linguistics and Psychology at Harvard University. Dr. Kocab's work combines the study of linguistic structure with considerations of the cognitive factors involved in language learning and change. Much of her work has focused on Nicaraguan Sign Language, which began to emerge in the 1970s. In parallel, Dr. Kocab's work investigates these questions using language creation paradigms with children and adults in the laboratory. She received her BA from Wellesley College and her PhD from Harvard University under the mentorship of Jesse Snedeker.

Apr 8, 2021 05:00 PM in Eastern Time (US and Canada)

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