LSA 305: Grammar and social cognition

Nick Evans | six-week course | MW 10:30 – 12:15, 370 Dwinelle Hall

This course will examine how the diversity of the world's grammatical structures can be used to examine the architecture and conceptual underpinnings that enable us to function as social agents. The approach will be that of semantic typology, as developed for the study of particular conceptual domains (e.g. space), but as yet these approaches have not been applied to the domain of psychosocial cognition. At the same time, it will be informed by debates from a number of relevant literatures including cognitive science, anthropology and evolutionary human biology.

Particular grammars can help us develop a more cross-linguistically robust and sophisticated model of this central domain, by the way they elaborate certain aspects of our psychosocial reality (e.g. kinship, types of socially-legitimated possession, the privacy of intentions or emotions, the jointness or divergence of attention). In this course we will survey these, and integrate them into a single composite model of psychosocial cognition in grammar that is able at the same time to model cross-linguistic regularities and language-specific elaborations. Participants will be encouraged to bring interesting data from languages they are researching, developing and testing the model to be unfolded during the course.

Required reading: Selected materials available online.

Recommended reading: Nicholas Evans, Dying Words. Endangered languages and what they have to tell us and Nicholas J. Enfield and Steven C. Levinson, Roots of human sociality: Culture, Cognition and Interaction.

Areas of linguistics: Language and thought; Sociolinguistics and linguistic anthropology; Syntax, semantics, and morphology

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