Linguistics and English Language

Bilingualism research group

Speaker: Mike Sharwood Smith

Title: The Homunculus Effect: its manifestation in multilingual processing

Abstract: The psycholinguistics and language acquisition literatures are replete with terms like, for instance, selection, strategy, transfer and supervisory and even decision which all appear to attribute certain functions to the subconscious mind. If taken literally, these terms are unwarranted although, if pressed, researchers will commonly and correctly insist they should be taken as ‘just metaphors’. As metaphors, they are certainly very useful and probably necessary to be able to explaining clearly and graphically anything to do with cognitive functioning. There is however a risk involved and something to be avoided at all costs. The terms and the concepts they represent might, and do sometimes, lose their purely metaphorical status and mislead people in believing that there must indeed be a subconscious ‘homunculus’, known variously by such terms as central processor, supervisory control or executive.  How then can we make it clear that, without detailed justification, such notions are:

  1. ‘just for the purposes of description’ and hence not to be taken as real explanations
  2. not crucially required to explain what resolves the continual competition and conflict that goes on in our (subconscious) minds?

The solution is to show that there is a plausible alternative way of explaining how the mind actually resolves such conflicts without any notion of subconscious decision-making, selection or subconscious supervision? I shall use bilingual processing as a way of illustrating what makes the mind go for one option rather than another. To do this it is necessary to go beyond local models and local theories and look at cognitive processing as a whole. To this end I will apply the architecture of the Modular Cognition Framework (MCF).

N.B. It may be useful for some, in advance of this talk, to briefly visit the MCF website and check out some of the shorter YouTube talks on the Multimedia page plus some items on the Publication page.


Please contact Jiuzhou to find out specific dates for this semester and/or to be added to the mailing list.

Feb 01 2021 -

Bilingualism research group

2021-02-01: The Homunculus Effect: its manifestation in multilingual processing

Online via link invitation