Colloquium, 9/18 – Laura Dilley

The first talk in our 2020-2021 McGill Linguistics Colloquium Series will be given by Laura Dilley (Michigan State University) this Friday, September 18 at 3:30 pm.

If you are planning to attend talks, we would like you to register in advance with the following link (you only need to register once for the 2020-2021 McGill Linguistics Colloquium Series):

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

Title:  “Language and social brains: Toward understanding mechanisms and typologies of prosody and tone”

Abstract: The past ~70 years of linguistic research have seen dramatic changes in the way researchers frame and conceptualize language as a human capacity and activity. In this talk I will present a synthesis of key insights from these past decades which leads to a view that language structure and meaning is grounded in social dynamics of perception, action, and cognition within ecological niches. Language perception does not entail, as some have argued, mere recovery of abstract linguistic units; rather, the very process of what those units are understood to be depends on social and ecological contexts. Framed in this way, innate brain mechanisms tuned to extraction of information over language-relevant timescales, together with the history of short- and long-term experiences over a lifetime, give rise to emergent understandings of meaning, as well as the apprehension of linguistic form and content. I will present the case of prosody, long held to be a mere overlay on the implicitly more foundational segmental underpinning, and challenge some long-held assumptions about the structure of prosody and how it contributes to meaning. With the benefit of insights of original thinkers who have come before, as well as the principle of Ockham’s Razor, I will argue that viewing human linguistic capacities as grounded in inherent temporal dynamics of social brains and bodies fosters novel connections among linguistic sub-disciplines and brings new questions into focus. Viewed through this lens, I assert that is possible to make headway toward understanding some of the most challenging domains of linguistic inquiry, namely typology, meaning and structure of tone and prosody. 

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