The Theory of Language Meetings are meetings reflecting the research interests and projects at the Language in Interaction Consortium. For each meeting there will be an invited speaker, and discussions open to topics including (but not limited to) language structure (e.g., morphology, syntax), semantics, pragmatics, multimodality, also from a cross-linguistic, developmental, neurocomputational perspective (and more!).

Next Meeting:

19 January 2024, 14:00, MPI 163: Prof. Antal van den Bosch (Utrecht University) will give a presentation titled “The building bricks of language”. 

Language makes infinite use of finite means, as Chomsky would have it. The obvious functional similitude between Chomsky’s generative grammars and the latest generative language models such as ChatGPT is that they are both able, broadly speaking, to convert an idea into various wordings, within the bounds of what is grammatical. They differ as well: Chomsky’s economizing principles stand in stark contrast with the careless ‘maximalism’ and memorisation capacity of Large Language Models, fueled by the motto “there’s no data like more data”. How do these models relate to each other, and to an important third model, the human language system, implemented in countless individual brains? Drawing on linguistic, computational and neurobiological research I discuss how these different views offer different explanations for individual language variation, by focusing on the building bricks, the ‘finite means’, they appear to be using.

As usual, there will be an informal get-together from 13:45, with coffee, sandwiches and cake.
If you cannot join, but still wish to attend remotely, you can use zoom. Please send us an email for the link.

We hope for a high attendance!

Previous meetings:

10th of November 2023, 14:00 – 15:30, MPI163, We will host Prof. Natalia Levshina (Radboud University)

Title: From efficient trade-offs to causal networks: The interplay of linguistic variables and sociolinguistic factors in the encoding of “who did what to whom

Abstract: Language scientists have argued that efficient language systems display trade-offs between different types of costs, e.g., cognitive and communicative costs in lexicon, or different types of information, e.g., word order and word structure information. In this talk I will focus on the ways of expressing core grammatical roles, or “who did what to whom” in a large sample of typologically and genealogically diverse languages. I will show that the cues are very diverse, not necessarily in a trade-off relationship, and are influenced by sociolinguistic variables, such as the number of speakers. I will argue that a good way of modelling such relationships is with the help of Fast Causal Analysis networks based on Judea Pearl’s ideas about causal inference.

20th of October 2023, MPI 163: Prof. Valentina Bambini (University School for Advanced Studies IUSS Pavia, Italy)

Title: The neuropragmatics of metaphor, from propositional to multimodal accounts

Abstract: In this talk I will present a series of studies on metaphor understanding, framed in the context of neuropragmatics and involving both typical and atypical individuals. I will present a model that sees metaphor comprehension as a serial process that encompasses lexical and inferential phases. The model also takes into consideration the multiplicity of metaphor types, which might differently engage mindreading and imagery processes, in line with recent multimodal accounts of language processing.

16th of June 2023, 14-15:30, MPI Room 163, Dr. Paula Rubio Fernandez gave a talk:

The Cognitive Trinity of Common Ground

Abstract: Human communication is built around interlocutors’ common ground (CG), or the information they assume to share. Despite having been the focus of intense interdisciplinary research for more than 60 years, we do not yet understand how CG works, or even what exactly it is. In this talk I will introduce a new research program that is essential to understanding CG: I propose to study CG as a product of cultural evolution. This approach requires identifying (i) those cognitive capacities that are required for the emergence of CG in human cognition, and (ii) how those capacities interact in (a) the development of CG through children’s social learning across cultures; (b) its formation through social interaction across the lifespan, and (c) its management in conversation across languages. I hypothesize that forming and using CG is a complex human ability that emerges from the interaction of three cognitive capacities — joint attention, joint memory, and the use of reference systems — under a rationality principle. This is what I call the Cognitive Trinity of Common Ground.

21th of April 15-16.30 Prof. Caroline Rowland led a discussion on the following paper:
Pietraszewski, D., & Wertz, A. E. (2022). Why Evolutionary Psychology Should Abandon Modularity. Perspectives on Psychological Science: A Journal of the Association for Psychological Science, 17(2), 465–490.
Below you can also find a nice tweet thread on it:

24th February 2023 14:00-15:30 We had a discussion on language models. Marianne de Heer Kloots introduced the paper: “Dissociating language and thought in large language models: a cognitive perspective” by Mahowald and colleagues.

27th January 2023 14:00-15:30: Dr. Bob van Tiel gave a talk “Meaning and use in the expression of quantity and probability”.

25th November 2022 14:00-15:00: Prof. Asli Özyürek gave a talk on multimodal grammar.

Dates of future meetings in 2023:

We resume our meetings in September, dates will be announced soon.

20th October 2023: Prof. Valentina Bambini!

Contact: Maria Spychalska, Francesca Carota