Linguistics and English Language

Bilingualism research group

Speaker: Professor Mike Sharwood Smith

Title: The status of the ‘language’ concept and how languages are differentiated in the mind

Abstract: This talk connects up with the topic of the first talk in this series given by Antonella Sorace. I will start from the sociocultural definition of language as a social construct and the associated claim that language is a toxic, neocolonial invention and use this starting point as a basis for recasting the ideas in this debate in purely cognitive psychological terms. The following questions then arise. Given the continued existence of the language concept, how does such a concept come to be represented in the mind in the first place? How are what we know as ‘different languages’ actually differentiated in the mind? How are evaluations of the language concept created? Applying the Modular Cognition Framework to these questions conveys some substance to the discussion. It reveals a clear disconnect between a) how languages in the mind are differentiated and b) the separate and independent role of ’language-neutral’ linguistic processing. What most people might know as ‘language’ and ‘languages’ are acquired naturally and independently anyway however they might be conceptualised, even if the individual has no concept at all of what a language might be. From this perspective, whether or not the language concept is rejected in sociocultural narratives, people will continue to acquire linguistic systems when exposed to the appropriate input. The question naturally remains open concerning how you should then choose to conceptualise the results of this natural psychological process and what particular values should be applied. This being a sociocultural issue, falls outside the scope of discussions about the mind but, from a purely psychological perspective, the concept of language or ‘linguistic system’ can have multiple meanings and any one of these can be associated with either a negative or a positive value.


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Nov 01 2021 -

Bilingualism research group

2021-11-01: The status of the ‘language’ concept and how languages are differentiated in the mind

Online via link invitation