Language and Cognition -
The Language and Cognition Department investigates the relationship between language, culture and general cognition, making use of the "natural laboratory" of language variation. In this way, the Department brings the perspective of language diversity to bear on a range of central problems in the language sciences. It maintains over a dozen field sites around the world, where languages are described (often for the first time), field experiments conducted and extended corpora of natural language usage collected. In addition, the department is characterized by a diversity of methods, ranging from linguistic analysis and ethnography to developmental perspectives, from psycholinguistic experimentation to conversation analysis, from corpus statistics to brain imaging, and from phylogenetics to linguistic data mining.
Current research has two main themes. The first concerns the use of language in interactive situations and its foundations in cognition — the Interactional Foundations of Language project. This project explores the hypothesis that there is a strong universal base for language outside language itself, in the organization of language use; a base that may nevertheless show considerable cultural biases. The second concerns grammatical diversity across languages, and its implications for language processing — the Linguistic Diversity and Processing project. This project explores, for example, the vast range of semantic and syntactic categories, and the effects of differential syntactic organization on production and comprehension problems.
This research involves work on languages around the world — especially the documentation of under-described languages. The department is currently pioneering the collection of conversational corpora from these languages. For comparative elicitation, the departments develop recurrent field manuals and stimulus materials. The Institute houses the largest digital archive of such language material in the world: The Language Archive. Understanding the sources of language diversity also requires understanding language change and prehistory, and the L&C Department (in conjunction with the Evolutionary Processes in Language and Culture group) has pioneered the application of bioinformatics to language typology.