Language Universals and Variation (Perspectives on Cognitive Science)

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Although there are a number of publications on case related issues, there is no volume such as the present one, which exclusively looks at case marking, competition and variation from a cross-linguistic perspective and within the context of different contemporary theoretical approaches to the study of language.

In addition to chapters with broad conceptual orientation, the volume offers detailed empirical studies of case in a number of diverse languages including: The volume will be of interest to researchers and advanced students in the cognitive sciences, general linguistics, typology, historical linguistics, formal linguistics, and psycholinguistics.

The book will interest scholars working within the context of formal syntactic and semantic theories as it provides insight into the properties of case from a cross-linguistic perspective. The book also will be of interest to cognitive scientists interested in the relationship between meaning and grammar, in particular, and the human mind's capacity in the mapping of meaning onto grammar, in general. He is the co-editor with P. What is universal is a far more specific semantic construct, namely the situation type represented by each picture, and its relationship to every other situation type in the domain, represented by its position in conceptual space relative to the positions of all the other situation types in the conceptual space.

Internal structure of IN conceptual cluster by unfolding. They are separated considerably from the remainder, which represent a more complete containment of the figure. Picture 32 at the bottom left is distinctive because the figure is immersed in a liquid which is in turn held by a container. The grouping in the upper right can also be more finely broken down. Pictures 54 and 14 represent figures in a boxy container with one full side open. Figures 67 and more distantly 71 represent animate figures in a hollow object with a small opening on one side the shape of the ground objects differs quite a bit, possibly justifying the conceptual distance.

Finally, Pictures 2 and 19 both involve an apple in a more open, roundish ground albeit quite different. On the whole, the spatial model represents a gradient, roughly from lower right to upper left, of increasing envelopment of the figure by the ground except for the anomalous picture 19, whose inclusion relation suggests a positioning in the upper left.

These fine-grained semantic differences and gradients are more important than the overall IN relationship, since some linguistic adposition categories cut through the IN conceptual cluster see Figure 5. In fact—and this is the more radical analysis, but the only one supported by the data— there are no universal conceptual categories either , at least of relevance to language.

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The labeling of the clusters in Figure 4 is a simplistic representation of the structure of the conceptual space. What is universal is the holistic conceptualization of the situation types themselves, and the conceptual relationships between the holistic situation types represented as points in the conceptual space, as depicted in Figure 6. Speakers have basically the same conceptualization of highly specific, holistically represented situation types; and they have basically the same judgement of similarity, including degrees and dimensions of similarity, among these situation types.

But they may linguistically group similar situation types in any way possibly also subject to as yet undiscovered other constraints , as long as similarity is respected. Hence linguistic categories are semantically coherent in terms of similarity modeled as spatial distance and direction in an N-dimensional space , as predicted by the polysemy model.

Intuitively, this is not surprising. But one need not do so.

What does this within-language variation tell us about universals and relativity? In particular, does it support the model of what is universal and what is language-specific or speaker-specific or even utterance-specific that was inferred from typological data in the preceding section? One can do this by designing similar situations and elicit verbalizations of those situations from multiple speakers in a single language, not just across languages. The same depicted situations are shown to different speakers in near-identical circumstances, and verbalizations elicited from speakers in near-identical circumstances, to maximize comparability.

The verbalizations were divided into scenes, using the subchunking Chafe a,b of the movie sequence that emerged from comparison of the stories. The utterances for every speaker who verbalized the scene were compared.

The utterances as a whole varied, but so did the occurrences of individual verbs and constructions: This position is essentially a solipsistic one—relativity restricted to individuals rather than cultures. The use of language is a social act, of communication. The words and constructions chosen by the speaker are intended to frame the communicated experience in a certain way.

Moreover, the experience being communicated has many alternative construals this being the reason for different verbalizations of the experience. So the hearer must rely on his knowledge of the construal imposed by the words and constructions chosen by the speaker. Finally, each experience being communicated is unique and different, so the interlocutors must rely on their shared experience common ground; Clark at the current moment for understanding.

Hence, there is a high degree of indeterminacy in the communication process. It is this indeterminacy—not just alternative construals of a scene, but indeterminacy in the language used to describe a particular construal—that causes the variation in verbalization.

The myth of language universals: language diversity and its importance for cognitive science.

And the structure indicates that speakers are sensitive to semantic differences and relationships among slightly different scenes, but in a probabilistic way. The verbalization of unintended human events Croft , Table The proportions indicate sensitivity to subtle semantic differences in the scenes. Here there is variation in the use of a possessive pronoun as in 6 , or a definite article as in The verbalization of second mentions of nonhumans adapted from Croft , Table 6.

The most possessives are found with entities that are more inalienable and less animate, such as articles of clothing hat, apron. The two artifacts present a subtler semantic contrast: The verb see is used for four scenes in the Pear film by the speakers; the distribution of see and alternative verbs is given in Table Scene G4 the pearpicker sees that a basket is missing is clearly a cognition event, not a perception event, since alternative verbs include cognition verbs notice, discover, realize —one need not even have the giveaway clausal complement to recognize this.

Scenes C3 and E4 varies with look at if anything. They are typical perception situations: Scene F1 has a different distribution of verbs. It turns out that F1 is more like a finding scene: Again, the variation in verbalization tells us about the fine-grained semantic differences among the scenes.

Hence, a description of how meaning is encoded in language must be in terms of the frequency distribution of the constructions used for that meaning. Nevertheless, the relative frequency of a meaning for its form may also influence its cognitive representation. For example, the frequency distribution for the definite article-possessive pronoun contrast is given in Figure Frequency distribution for the verbalization of second mentions of nonhuman referents.

In other words, the representation of meaning required for the frequency distribution is identical to the representation of meaning for the crosslinguistic analysis in section 2: Instead, particular situations are represented by frequency distributions of certain forms. Those frequency distributions themselves indicate subtle differences in very particular situations, and the use of the same form s across those particular situations indicate conceptual relationships between particular situations—e. Thus, a specific choice of words may imply a specific construal of a particular scene, but probabilistically, it indicates a universal cross-speaker, and possibly crosslinguistic understanding of the fine-grained semantics of the particular situation type and its relationship to other fine-grained situation types.

Invariant unrestricted universals, the type posited by extreme universalists, do not exhaust what is common to human beings.

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Focusing on those unrestricted universals that do exist if indeed any do leaves out much of what is characteristic of human beings, at least with respect to language and the conceptualization of experience implicit in language structures. Greenberg and his successors were able to identify underlying universals of language, typological universals that constrain variation.

More recently, quantitative models allow typologists to analyze the high degree of variation in verbalization across speakers and across languages, and uncover the universals in variation, including variation in verbalization by speakers of the same language. The interpretation of these quantitative analyses is that what is universal are not linguistic formal lexicogrammatical categories, or even conceptual categories. What is universal is the holistic conception of highly particular situation types, and the conceptual relationships among those situation types.

Conceptual categories are epiphenomenal, though probably interesting to study in their own right. Formal linguistic categories appear to vary indefinitely as long as they respect the universal conception of particular situation types and their conceptual relationships, though there are probably additional constraints on linguistic categories besides the distribution of situation types in conceptual space.

The models illustrated in this paper are relatively simple representations.


It is very important for advances in linguistic theory to develop richer models that can capture more facets of semantic structure than those described in this paper. Shaping meanings for language: Language acquisition and conceptual development.

Cambridge University Press, A dictionary of selected synonyms in the principal Indo-European languages. University of Chicago Press.

Competition and Variation in Natural Languages: The Case for Case - Google Книги

Creativity in verbalization and its implications for the nature of stored knowledge. Discourse production and comprehension. The recall and verbalization of past experience.

Language Design - Noam Chomsky

Current issues in linguistic theory. Indiana University Press, Learning to express motion events in English and Korean: The influence of language-specific lexicalization patterns. Possible verbs and event structure. Typology and universals , 2nd edition. Toward a social cognitive linguistics. Didn't get the message? Add to My Bibliography. Generate a file for use with external citation management software. Evans N 1 , Levinson SC. Abstract Talk of linguistic universals has given cognitive scientists the impression that languages are all built to a common pattern.