Language Reflects “Core” Cognition: A New Theory About the Origin of Cross-Linguistic Regularities

Cognitive Science 41 (1):70-101 (2017)
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Abstract

The underlying structures that are common to the world's languages bear an intriguing connection with early emerging forms of “core knowledge” (Spelke & Kinzler, 2007), which are frequently studied by infant researchers. In particular, grammatical systems often incorporate distinctions (e.g., the mass/count distinction) that reflect those made in core knowledge (e.g., the non-verbal distinction between an object and a substance). Here, I argue that this connection occurs because non-verbal core knowledge systematically biases processes of language evolution. This account potentially explains a wide range of cross-linguistic grammatical phenomena that currently lack an adequate explanation. Second, I suggest that developmental researchers and cognitive scientists interested in (non-verbal) knowledge representation can exploit this connection to language by using observations about cross-linguistic grammatical tendencies to inspire hypotheses about core knowledge.

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Brent Strickland
Institut Jean Nicod

References found in this work

Natural language and natural selection.Steven Pinker & Paul Bloom - 1990 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 13 (4):707-27.
Verbs and times.Zeno Vendler - 1957 - Philosophical Review 66 (2):143-160.
Word Meaning and Montague Grammar.David R. Dowty - 1982 - Philosophical Review 91 (2):290-295.

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