Visit from professor Nigel Love (University of Cape Town)

Nigel Love of the University of Cape Town spent a week at the Centre for Human Interactivity. In his time here, Nigel delivered two lectures, and, during our research meeting, provoked lively discussion on the claim that language consists in two orders of regularity, a claim that is central to both integrational linguistics and the distributed view of language and cognition.

Professor Love (University of Cape Town) gave two lectures in which he presented an integrational view of foundational issues in linguistic cognition.

Language and mind: what do we know?

Wednesday, 20th November, 12-14.00

Report from the talk:

In this first lecture, Nigel Love looked at language production from the perspective of the ‘grammar and dictionary’ approach to what it is to know a langauge. He did so by focusing on the complexity that is assumed by, for example, William Levelt’s model of how a person can ever produce a single grammatical sentence. The aim of the exposition was to cast doubt on the view that such models capture what people actually know.

Nigel Love then scrutinised the view that minds of brains use inner grammars and dictionaries. In modern guise, this was traced to how Chomsky placed variability strictly outside the language system by invoking competence and its successors (e.g. Merge). Historically, this derives from Saussure’s mentalist view of what it is to ‘know a language’ (i.e. the view that mastering a language-system depends on inner structures that resemble what a linguist can describe).  The moral of the lecture is that we do now know much about language and mind. We should be very wary of theories that present neural models of language.

Nigel Love has been Editor of Language Sciences for many years and authored the classic paper: “Cognition and the Language Myth” [link].

Language and mind: how do we know?

Wednesday, 27th November, 12-14.00

In a ground breaking lecture, Nigel Love presented a positive argument on the issue of how we can move forward in understanding linguistic knowledge. He focused attention around intuitions associated with signs he saw at the airport: ‘Danish ordered taxis’ and ‘Please queue up’. Having clarified how the first shows grammatical anomalies while that the second is unidiomatic, he traced the relevant intuitions to –not a mental grammar and dictionary–but to experience. Like everything else, he claims, language draws on statistical learning and episodic memory.

In the first place, the claim is simple. Second, while building on John Taylor’s work (and using some of his examples), the approach does not posit that people memories of either forms or meanings or that they are somehow the ‘same’. Quite the contrary. When people engage with each other, communication is always partial and incomplete: it is based in practical knowledge that can be described in terms of both words and rules and with respect to skills that derive from dialogical and social aspects of life.  Thus, as a child finds its way into language, its caregivers use its vocalisations to guide it towards what they count as first words. From the perspective of CHI, this is important because it suggests that second-order aspects of language must necessarily be adapted to the workings of a statistically primed brain.



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