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Mark Dingemanse -


My work focuses on language and social interaction. I investigate how people use language in everyday life and how language itself is shaped by this use. To address these questions, I combine in-depth research in societies I know well with a broader comparative and interdisciplinary outlook.

Although my research is primarily curiosity-driven and can go in unpredictable directions*, three recurring interests animate it.

  1. Depiction, the imitative or iconic mode of expression used together with, and sometimes instead of, ordinary words. Depiction is a powerful and systematic way of communicating, yet linguistics is yet to develop a way of integrating it into the established scientific vision of language. My research aims to contribute to that. Key publication: Arbitrariness, Iconicity and Systematicity in LanguageTrends in Cognitive Sciences
  2. Social interaction, the primary ecology of language use. Language is a social phenomenon, so to fully understand it we need to study it in this context. I'm interested in the social and conversational infrastructure that makes complex language possible, especially from a cross-linguistic comparative view. Key publication: Universal Principles in the Repair of Communication ProblemsPLOS ONE.
  3. Theory and methods. Over the course of my research —spurred on by the challenges of studying ideophones and contributing to the emerging field of pragmatic typology— I've become especially interested in how theories and methods shape and constrain our scientific work, from research questions to data collection and analysis. Key link: Conceptual Foundations of Language Science, a new series I co-edit at Language Science Press.

Since 2007 I have carried out regular fieldwork on the Siwu language in Kawu (Akpafu) in Ghana's Volta Region. My home base there is in the friendly village of Akpafu-Mempeasem. I have spent over a year in the field, learning the language, and documenting social interaction and verbal art. 

My institutional home is the Max Plank Institute for Psycholinguistics. I'm scientific staff in the Language & Cognition Department headed by Steve Levinson. I also work together with colleagues from the Neurobiology of Language and Language & Genetics departments, as well as with a large international network of collaborators.

Some current collaborators

  • Tessa van Leeuwen (Donders Institute, Radboud University)
  • Kimi Akita (Nagoya University) & Mutsumi Imai (Keio University)
  • Pamela Perniss (Brighton) and Gabriella Vigliocco (UCL)
  • Sabine Stoll, Damián Blasi, Steven Moran & Taras Zakharko (Zürich)
  • Riccardo Fusaroli & Kristian Tylén (Interacting Minds Center, Aarhus University) & Morten Christiansen (Cornell University)
  • Tessa Verhoef (Leiden University) & Seán Roberts (Bristol University)
  • Marcus Perlman & Bodo Winter (University of Birmingham)
  • Julia Uddén (Stockholm University)
PhD supervision
  • Gwilym Lockwood — Talking sense: The behavioural and neural correlates of sound symbolism (co-supervised with Peter Hagoort, completed April 2017)
  • Karen Sanders (Tulane University, New Orleans) — A Study On Handedness In Citonga Multimodal Interactions (external committee member, completed May 2015)
  • Julija Baranova — Reasons in Russian (co-supervising with Nick Enfield)
  • Luis Miguel Rojas-Berscia — The Babel Problem (co-supervising with Steve Levinson and Pieter Muysken)
  • Tayo Neuman — Universals and variation in continuer use (co-supervising with Steve Levinson)
  • Marlou Rasenberg — Multimodal pragmatic alignment (co-supervising with Asli Özyürek)

* Footnote: 'Unpredictable directions'

My weirdest paper so far is probably Brain-to-brain interfaces and the role of language in distributing agency. I wrote it because I believe there is an important opportunity for linguists to contribute constructively to current debates about new technology.

Working on seemingly 'marginal' topics like ideophones and interjections has also led me to question traditional assumptions about what is core vs. marginal in language, as I've described in On the margins of language. 

Head over to my irregularly updated weblog The Ideophone for some light reading on iconicity, academia, and a wide range of other topics.

Last checked 2018-05-30

Mark Dingemanse

Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics
PO Box 310
6500 AH Nijmegen
The Netherlands