Linguistics and English Language

Language evolution seminar

Speaker: Marieke Schouwstra (University of Edinburgh)

Title: Improvisation and semantic biases: silent gesture goes cross-modal (collaborative work with Katie Mudd, Ross Towns, and Simon Kirby)

Abstract: Silent gesture, a laboratory method in which naive participants improvise, using their hands and no speech to convey information, has been taken up as a way to investigate cognitive preferences for constituent ordering when communication occurs in the absence of a conventional system. Recent years have seen a steady increase in silent gesture experiments, and the method has made it possible to observe semantic biases that might play a role in the emergence of conventional word order in human language.

But can we draw any conclusions about general linguistic mechanisms, based on results from the gestural modality? Much silent gesture work is presented under the assumption that the results are (at least partly) modality-independent. However, recent work suggests that some word order patterns can only be explained by appealing to the gestural modality specifically.

I will present two studies that address the issue of modality dependence, one in which participants interpret silent gesture strings, and one in which participants improvise in the vocal modality. Together, the experiments show that different semantic biases interact differently with the affordances of the modality, and that at least some patterns occur independently of the modality (phew!).


Seminars are organised by the Centre for Language Evolution

Svenja Wagner

Centre for Language Evolution

Jan 30 2018 -

Language evolution seminar

2018-01-30: Improvisation and semantic biases: silent gesture goes cross-modal

Room G32, Psychology Building, 7 George Square, Edinburgh, EH8 9JZ