Stephen C. Levinson

Publications

Displaying 1 - 100 of 312
  • Levinson, S. C. (in press). The interaction Engine hypothesis. In P. Hagoort (Ed.), Human language: From genes and brain to behavior. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Bögels, S., Kendrick, K. H., & Levinson, S. C. (2019). Conversational expectations get revised as response latencies unfold. Language, Cognition and Neuroscience. Advance online publication. doi:10.1080/23273798.2019.1590609.

    Abstract

    The present study extends neuro-imaging into conversation through studying dialogue comprehension. Conversation entails rapid responses, with negative semiotics for delay. We explored how expectations about the valence of the forthcoming response develop during the silence before the response and whether negative responses have mainly cognitive or social-emotional consequences. EEG-participants listened to questions from a spontaneous spoken corpus, cross-spliced with short/long gaps and “yes”/“no” responses. Preceding contexts biased listeners to expect the eventual response, which was hypothesised to translate to expectations for a shorter or longer gap. “No” responses showed a trend towards an early positivity, suggesting socio-emotional consequences. Within the long gap, expecting a “yes” response led to an earlier negativity, as well as a trend towards stronger theta-oscillations, after 300 milliseconds. This suggests that listeners anticipate/predict “yes” responses to come earlier than “no” responses, showing strong sensitivities to timing, which presumably promote hastening the pace of verbal interaction.

    Supplementary material

    plcp_a_1590609_sm4630.docx
  • Enfield, N. J., Stivers, T., Brown, P., Englert, C., Harjunpää, K., Hayashi, M., Heinemann, T., Hoymann, G., Keisanen, T., Rauniomaa, M., Raymond, C. W., Rossano, F., Yoon, K.-E., Zwitserlood, I., & Levinson, S. C. (2019). Polar answers. Journal of Linguistics, 55(2), 277-304. doi:10.1017/S0022226718000336.

    Abstract

    How do people answer polar questions? In this fourteen-language study of answers to questions in conversation, we compare the two main strategies; first, interjection-type answers such as uh-huh (or equivalents yes, mm, head nods, etc.), and second, repetition-type answers that repeat some or all of the question. We find that all languages offer both options, but that there is a strong asymmetry in their frequency of use, with a global preference for interjection-type answers. We propose that this preference is motivated by the fact that the two options are not equivalent in meaning. We argue that interjection-type answers are intrinsically suited to be the pragmatically unmarked, and thus more frequent, strategy for confirming polar questions, regardless of the language spoken. Our analysis is based on the semantic-pragmatic profile of the interjection-type and repetition-type answer strategies, in the context of certain asymmetries inherent to the dialogic speech act structure of question–answer sequences, including sequential agency and thematic agency. This allows us to see possible explanations for the outlier distributions found in ǂĀkhoe Haiǁom and Tzeltal.
  • Holler, J., & Levinson, S. C. (2019). Multimodal language processing in human communication. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 23(8), 639-652. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2019.05.006.

    Abstract

    Multiple layers of visual (and vocal) signals, plus their different onsets and offsets, represent a significant semantic and temporal binding problem during face-to-face conversation. Despite this complex unification process, multimodal messages appear to be processed faster than unimodal messages. Multimodal gestalt recognition and multilevel prediction are proposed to play a crucial role in facilitating multimodal language processing. The basis of the processing mechanisms involved in multimodal language comprehension is hypothesized to be domain general, coopted for communication, and refined with domain-specific characteristics. A new, situated framework for understanding human language processing is called for that takes into consideration the multilayered, multimodal nature of language and its production and comprehension in conversational interaction requiring fast processing.
  • Bögels, S., Casillas, M., & Levinson, S. C. (2018). Planning versus comprehension in turn-taking: Fast responders show reduced anticipatory processing of the question. Neuropsychologia, 109, 295-310. doi:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2017.12.028.

    Abstract

    Rapid response latencies in conversation suggest that responders start planning before the ongoing turn is finished. Indeed, an earlier EEG study suggests that listeners start planning their responses to questions as soon as they can (Bögels, S., Magyari, L., & Levinson, S. C. (2015). Neural signatures of response planning occur midway through an incoming question in conversation. Scientific Reports, 5, 12881). The present study aimed to (1) replicate this early planning effect and (2) investigate whether such early response planning incurs a cost on participants’ concurrent comprehension of the ongoing turn. During the experiment participants answered questions from a confederate partner. To address aim (1), the questions were designed such that response planning could start either early or late in the turn. Our results largely replicate Bögels et al. (2015) showing a large positive ERP effect and an oscillatory alpha/beta reduction right after participants could have first started planning their verbal response, again suggesting an early start of response planning. To address aim (2), the confederate's questions also contained either an expected word or an unexpected one to elicit a differential N400 effect, either before or after the start of response planning. We hypothesized an attenuated N400 effect after response planning had started. In contrast, the N400 effects before and after planning did not differ. There was, however, a positive correlation between participants' response time and their N400 effect size after planning had started; quick responders showed a smaller N400 effect, suggesting reduced attention to comprehension and possibly reduced anticipatory processing. We conclude that early response planning can indeed impact comprehension processing.

    Supplementary material

    mmc1.pdf
  • Brown, P., & Levinson, S. C. (2018). Tzeltal: The demonstrative system. In S. C. Levinson, S. Cutfield, M. Dunn, N. J. Enfield, & S. Meira (Eds.), Demonstratives in cross-linguistic perspective (pp. 150-177). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Byun, K.-S., De Vos, C., Bradford, A., Zeshan, U., & Levinson, S. C. (2018). First encounters: Repair sequences in cross-signing. Topics in Cognitive Science, 10(2), 314-334. doi:10.1111/tops.12303.

    Abstract

    Most human communication is between people who speak or sign the same languages. Nevertheless, communication is to some extent possible where there is no language in common, as every tourist knows. How this works is of some theoretical interest (Levinson 2006). A nice arena to explore this capacity is when deaf signers of different languages meet for the first time, and are able to use the iconic affordances of sign to begin communication. Here we focus on Other-Initiated Repair (OIR), that is, where one signer makes clear he or she does not understand, thus initiating repair of the prior conversational turn. OIR sequences are typically of a three-turn structure (Schegloff 2007) including the problem source turn (T-1), the initiation of repair (T0), and the turn offering a problem solution (T+1). These sequences seem to have a universal structure (Dingemanse et al. 2013). We find that in most cases where such OIR occur, the signer of the troublesome turn (T-1) foresees potential difficulty, and marks the utterance with 'try markers' (Sacks & Schegloff 1979, Moerman 1988) which pause to invite recognition. The signers use repetition, gestural holds, prosodic lengthening and eyegaze at the addressee as such try-markers. Moreover, when T-1 is try-marked this allows for faster response times of T+1 with respect to T0. This finding suggests that signers in these 'first encounter' situations actively anticipate potential trouble and, through try-marking, mobilize and facilitate OIRs. The suggestion is that heightened meta-linguistic awareness can be utilized to deal with these problems at the limits of our communicational ability.
  • Byun, K.-S., De Vos, C., Roberts, S. G., & Levinson, S. C. (2018). Interactive sequences modulate the selection of expressive forms in cross-signing. In C. Cuskley, M. Flaherty, H. Little, L. McCrohon, A. Ravignani, & T. Verhoef (Eds.), Proceedings of the 12th International Conference on the Evolution of Language (EVOLANG XII) (pp. 67-69). Toruń, Poland: NCU Press. doi:10.12775/3991-1.012.
  • Dediu, D., & Levinson, S. C. (2018). Neanderthal language revisited: Not only us. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, 21, 49-55. doi:10.1016/j.cobeha.2018.01.001.

    Abstract

    Here we re-evaluate our 2013 paper on the antiquity of language (Dediu and Levinson, 2013) in the light of a surge of new information on human evolution in the last half million years. Although new genetic data suggest the existence of some cognitive differences between Neanderthals and modern humans — fully expected after hundreds of thousands of years of partially separate evolution, overall our claims that Neanderthals were fully articulate beings and that language evolution was gradual are further substantiated by the wealth of new genetic, paleontological and archeological evidence briefly reviewed here.
  • Gisladottir, R. S., Bögels, S., & Levinson, S. C. (2018). Oscillatory brain responses reflect anticipation during comprehension of speech acts in spoken dialogue. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 12: 34. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2018.00034.

    Abstract

    Everyday conversation requires listeners to quickly recognize verbal actions, so-called speech acts, from the underspecified linguistic code and prepare a relevant response within the tight time constraints of turn-taking. The goal of this study was to determine the time-course of speech act recognition by investigating oscillatory EEG activity during comprehension of spoken dialogue. Participants listened to short, spoken dialogues with target utterances that delivered three distinct speech acts (Answers, Declinations, Pre-offers). The targets were identical across conditions at lexico-syntactic and phonetic/prosodic levels but differed in the pragmatic interpretation of the speech act performed. Speech act comprehension was associated with reduced power in the alpha/beta bands just prior to Declination speech acts, relative to Answers and Pre-offers. In addition, we observed reduced power in the theta band during the beginning of Declinations, relative to Answers. Based on the role of alpha and beta desynchronization in anticipatory processes, the results are taken to indicate that anticipation plays a role in speech act recognition. Anticipation of speech acts could be critical for efficient turn-taking, allowing interactants to quickly recognize speech acts and respond within the tight time frame characteristic of conversation. The results show that anticipatory processes can be triggered by the characteristics of the interaction, including the speech act type.

    Supplementary material

    data sheet 1.pdf
  • Holler, J., Kendrick, K. H., & Levinson, S. C. (2018). Processing language in face-to-face conversation: Questions with gestures get faster responses. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 25(5), 1900-1908. doi:10.3758/s13423-017-1363-z.

    Abstract

    The home of human language use is face-to-face interaction, a context in which communicative exchanges are characterised not only by bodily signals accompanying what is being said but also by a pattern of alternating turns at talk. This transition between turns is astonishingly fast—typically a mere 200-ms elapse between a current and a next speaker’s contribution—meaning that comprehending, producing, and coordinating conversational contributions in time is a significant challenge. This begs the question of whether the additional information carried by bodily signals facilitates or hinders language processing in this time-pressured environment. We present analyses of multimodal conversations revealing that bodily signals appear to profoundly influence language processing in interaction: Questions accompanied by gestures lead to shorter turn transition times—that is, to faster responses—than questions without gestures, and responses come earlier when gestures end before compared to after the question turn has ended. These findings hold even after taking into account prosodic patterns and other visual signals, such as gaze. The empirical findings presented here provide a first glimpse of the role of the body in the psycholinguistic processes underpinning human communication
  • Hömke, P., Holler, J., & Levinson, S. C. (2018). Eye blinks are perceived as communicative signals in human face-to-face interaction. PLoS One, 13(12): e0208030. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0208030.

    Abstract

    In face-to-face communication, recurring intervals of mutual gaze allow listeners to provide speakers with visual feedback (e.g. nodding). Here, we investigate the potential feedback function of one of the subtlest of human movements—eye blinking. While blinking tends to be subliminal, the significance of mutual gaze in human interaction raises the question whether the interruption of mutual gaze through blinking may also be communicative. To answer this question, we developed a novel, virtual reality-based experimental paradigm, which enabled us to selectively manipulate blinking in a virtual listener, creating small differences in blink duration resulting in ‘short’ (208 ms) and ‘long’ (607 ms) blinks. We found that speakers unconsciously took into account the subtle differences in listeners’ blink duration, producing substantially shorter answers in response to long listener blinks. Our findings suggest that, in addition to physiological, perceptual and cognitive functions, listener blinks are also perceived as communicative signals, directly influencing speakers’ communicative behavior in face-to-face communication. More generally, these findings may be interpreted as shedding new light on the evolutionary origins of mental-state signaling, which is a crucial ingredient for achieving mutual understanding in everyday social interaction.

    Supplementary material

    Supporting information
  • Levinson, S. C. (2018). Introduction: Demonstratives: Patterns in diversity. In S. C. Levinson, S. Cutfield, M. Dunn, N. J. Enfield, & S. Meira (Eds.), Demonstratives in cross-linguistic perspective (pp. 1-42). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Levinson, S. C. (2018). Spatial cognition, empathy and language evolution. Studies in Pragmatics, 20, 16-21.

    Abstract

    The evolution of language and spatial cognition may have been deeply interconnected. The argument goes as follows: 1. Human native spatial abilities are poor, but we make up for it with linguistic and cultural prostheses; 2. The explanation for the loss of native spatial abilities may be that language has cannibalized the hippocampus, the mammalian mental ‘GPS’; 3. Consequently, language may have borrowed conceptual primitives from spatial cognition (in line with ‘localism’), these being differentially combined in different languages; 4. The hippocampus may have been colonized because: (a) space was prime subject matter for communication, (b) gesture uses space to represent space, and was likely precursor to language. In order to explain why the other great apes haven’t gone in the same direction, we need to invoke other factors, notably the ‘interaction engine’, the ensemble of interactional abilities that make cooperative communication possible and provide the matrix for the evolution and learning of language.
  • Levinson, S. C. (2018). Yélî Dnye: Demonstratives in the language of Rossel Island, Papua New Guinea. In S. C. Levinson, S. Cutfield, M. Dunn, N. J. Enfield, & S. Meira (Eds.), Demonstratives in cross-linguistic perspective (pp. 318-342). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Levinson, S. C., Cutfield, S., Dunn, M., Enfield, N. J., & Meira, S. (Eds.). (2018). Demonstratives in cross-linguistic perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Abstract

    Demonstratives play a crucial role in the acquisition and use of language. Bringing together a team of leading scholars this detailed study, a first of its kind, explores meaning and use across fifteen typologically and geographically unrelated languages to find out what cross-linguistic comparisons and generalizations can be made, and how this might challenge current theory in linguistics, psychology, anthropology and philosophy. Using a shared experimental task, rounded out with studies of natural language use, specialists in each of the languages undertook extensive fieldwork for this comparative study of semantics and usage. An introduction summarizes the shared patterns and divergences in meaning and use that emerge.
  • Majid, A., Roberts, S. G., Cilissen, L., Emmorey, K., Nicodemus, B., O'Grady, L., Woll, B., LeLan, B., De Sousa, H., Cansler, B. L., Shayan, S., De Vos, C., Senft, G., Enfield, N. J., Razak, R. A., Fedden, S., Tufvesson, S., Dingemanse, M., Ozturk, O., Brown, P., Hill, C., Le Guen, O., Hirtzel, V., Van Gijn, R., Sicoli, M. A., & Levinson, S. C. (2018). Differential coding of perception in the world’s languages. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 115(45), 11369-11376. doi:10.1073/pnas.1720419115.

    Abstract

    Is there a universal hierarchy of the senses, such that some senses (e.g., vision) are more accessible to consciousness and linguistic description than others (e.g., smell)? The long-standing presumption in Western thought has been that vision and audition are more objective than the other senses, serving as the basis of knowledge and understanding, whereas touch, taste, and smell are crude and of little value. This predicts that humans ought to be better at communicating about sight and hearing than the other senses, and decades of work based on English and related languages certainly suggests this is true. However, how well does this reflect the diversity of languages and communities worldwide? To test whether there is a universal hierarchy of the senses, stimuli from the five basic senses were used to elicit descriptions in 20 diverse languages, including 3 unrelated sign languages. We found that languages differ fundamentally in which sensory domains they linguistically code systematically, and how they do so. The tendency for better coding in some domains can be explained in part by cultural preoccupations. Although languages seem free to elaborate specific sensory domains, some general tendencies emerge: for example, with some exceptions, smell is poorly coded. The surprise is that, despite the gradual phylogenetic accumulation of the senses, and the imbalances in the neural tissue dedicated to them, no single hierarchy of the senses imposes itself upon language.
  • Seifart, F., Evans, N., Hammarström, H., & Levinson, S. C. (2018). Language documentation twenty-five years on. Language, 94(4), e324-e345. doi:10.1353/lan.2018.0070.

    Abstract

    This discussion note reviews responses of the linguistics profession to the grave issues of language endangerment identified a quarter of a century ago in the journal Language by Krauss, Hale, England, Craig, and others (Hale et al. 1992). Two and a half decades of worldwide research not only have given us a much more accurate picture of the number, phylogeny, and typological variety of the world’s languages, but they have also seen the development of a wide range of new approaches, conceptual and technological, to the problem of documenting them. We review these approaches and the manifold discoveries they have unearthed about the enormous variety of linguistic structures. The reach of our knowledge has increased by about 15% of the world’s languages, especially in terms of digitally archived material, with about 500 languages now reasonably documented thanks to such major programs as DoBeS, ELDP, and DEL. But linguists are still falling behind in the race to document the planet’s rapidly dwindling linguistic diversity, with around 35–42% of the world’s languages still substantially undocumented, and in certain countries (such as the US) the call by Krauss (1992) for a significant professional realignment toward language documentation has only been heeded in a few institutions. Apart from the need for an intensified documentarist push in the face of accelerating language loss, we argue that existing language documentation efforts need to do much more to focus on crosslinguistically comparable data sets, sociolinguistic context, semantics, and interpretation of text material, and on methods for bridging the ‘transcription bottleneck’, which is creating a huge gap between the amount we can record and the amount in our transcribed corpora.*
  • Barthel, M., Meyer, A. S., & Levinson, S. C. (2017). Next speakers plan their turn early and speak after turn-final ‘go-signals’. Frontiers in Psychology, 8: 393. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00393.

    Abstract

    In conversation, turn-taking is usually fluid, with next speakers taking their turn right after the end of the previous turn. Most, but not all, previous studies show that next speakers start to plan their turn early, if possible already during the incoming turn. The present study makes use of the list-completion paradigm (Barthel et al., 2016), analyzing speech onset latencies and eye-movements of participants in a task-oriented dialogue with a confederate. The measures are used to disentangle the contributions to the timing of turn-taking of early planning of content on the one hand and initiation of articulation as a reaction to the upcoming turn-end on the other hand. Participants named objects visible on their computer screen in response to utterances that did, or did not, contain lexical and prosodic cues to the end of the incoming turn. In the presence of an early lexical cue, participants showed earlier gaze shifts toward the target objects and responded faster than in its absence, whereas the presence of a late intonational cue only led to faster response times and did not affect the timing of participants' eye movements. The results show that with a combination of eye-movement and turn-transition time measures it is possible to tease apart the effects of early planning and response initiation on turn timing. They are consistent with models of turn-taking that assume that next speakers (a) start planning their response as soon as the incoming turn's message can be understood and (b) monitor the incoming turn for cues to turn-completion so as to initiate their response when turn-transition becomes relevant
  • Bögels, S., & Levinson, S. C. (2017). The brain behind the response: Insights into turn-taking in conversation from neuroimaging. Research on Language and Social Interaction, 50, 71-89. doi:10.1080/08351813.2017.1262118.

    Abstract

    This paper reviews the prospects for the cross-fertilization of conversation-analytic (CA) and neurocognitive studies of conversation, focusing on turn-taking. Although conversation is the primary ecological niche for language use, relatively little brain research has focused on interactive language use, partly due to the challenges of using brain-imaging methods that are controlled enough to perform sound experiments, but still reflect the rich and spontaneous nature of conversation. Recently, though, brain researchers have started to investigate conversational phenomena, for example by using 'overhearer' or controlled interaction paradigms. We review neuroimaging studies related to turn-taking and sequence organization, phenomena historically described by CA. These studies for example show early action recognition and immediate planning of responses midway during an incoming turn. The review discusses studies with an eye to a fruitful interchange between CA and neuroimaging research on conversation and an indication of how these disciplines can benefit from each other.
  • Greenhill, S. J., Wu, C.-H., Hua, X., Dunn, M., Levinson, S. C., & Gray, R. D. (2017). Evolutionary dynamics of language systems. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 114(42), E8822-E8829. doi:10.1073/pnas.1700388114.

    Abstract

    Understanding how and why language subsystems differ in their evolutionary dynamics is a fundamental question for historical and comparative linguistics. One key dynamic is the rate of language change. While it is commonly thought that the rapid rate of change hampers the reconstruction of deep language relationships beyond 6,000–10,000 y, there are suggestions that grammatical structures might retain more signal over time than other subsystems, such as basic vocabulary. In this study, we use a Dirichlet process mixture model to infer the rates of change in lexical and grammatical data from 81 Austronesian languages. We show that, on average, most grammatical features actually change faster than items of basic vocabulary. The grammatical data show less schismogenesis, higher rates of homoplasy, and more bursts of contact-induced change than the basic vocabulary data. However, there is a core of grammatical and lexical features that are highly stable. These findings suggest that different subsystems of language have differing dynamics and that careful, nuanced models of language change will be needed to extract deeper signal from the noise of parallel evolution, areal readaptation, and contact.
  • Hömke, P., Holler, J., & Levinson, S. C. (2017). Eye blinking as addressee feedback in face-to-face conversation. Research on Language and Social Interaction, 50, 54-70. doi:10.1080/08351813.2017.1262143.

    Abstract

    Does blinking function as a type of feedback in conversation? To address this question, we built a corpus of Dutch conversations, identified short and long addressee blinks during extended turns, and measured their occurrence relative to the end of turn constructional units (TCUs), the location where feedback typically occurs. Addressee blinks were indeed timed to the end of TCUs. Also, long blinks were more likely than short blinks to occur during mutual gaze, with nods or continuers, and their occurrence was restricted to sequential contexts in which signaling understanding was particularly relevant, suggesting a special signaling capacity of long blinks.
  • Levinson, S. C. (2017). Living with Manny's dangerous idea. In G. Raymond, G. H. Lerner, & J. Heritage (Eds.), Enabling human conduct: Studies of talk-in-interaction in honor of Emanuel A. Schegloff (pp. 327-349). Amsterdam: Benjamins.
  • Levinson, S. C. (2017). Speech acts. In Y. Huang (Ed.), Oxford handbook of pragmatics (pp. 199-216). Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199697960.013.22.

    Abstract

    The essential insight of speech act theory was that when we use language, we perform actions—in a more modern parlance, core language use in interaction is a form of joint action. Over the last thirty years, speech acts have been relatively neglected in linguistic pragmatics, although important work has been done especially in conversation analysis. Here we review the core issues—the identifying characteristics, the degree of universality, the problem of multiple functions, and the puzzle of speech act recognition. Special attention is drawn to the role of conversation structure, probabilistic linguistic cues, and plan or sequence inference in speech act recognition, and to the centrality of deep recursive structures in sequences of speech acts in conversation

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  • Magyari, L., De Ruiter, J. P., & Levinson, S. C. (2017). Temporal preparation for speaking in question-answer sequences. Frontiers in Psychology, 8: 211. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00211.

    Abstract

    In every-day conversations, the gap between turns of conversational partners is most frequently between 0 and 200 ms. We were interested how speakers achieve such fast transitions. We designed an experiment in which participants listened to pre-recorded questions about images presented on a screen and were asked to answer these questions. We tested whether speakers already prepare their answers while they listen to questions and whether they can prepare for the time of articulation by anticipating when questions end. In the experiment, it was possible to guess the answer at the beginning of the questions in half of the experimental trials. We also manipulated whether it was possible to predict the length of the last word of the questions. The results suggest when listeners know the answer early they start speech production already during the questions. Speakers can also time when to speak by predicting the duration of turns. These temporal predictions can be based on the length of anticipated words and on the overall probability of turn durations.

    Supplementary material

    presentation 1.pdf
  • Roberts, S. G., & Levinson, S. C. (2017). Conversation, cognition and cultural evolution: A model of the cultural evolution of word order through pressures imposed from turn taking in conversation. Interaction studies, 18(3), 402-429. doi:10.1075/is.18.3.06rob.

    Abstract

    This paper outlines a first attempt to model the special constraints that arise in language processing in conversation, and to explore the implications such functional considerations may have on language typology and language change. In particular, we focus on processing pressures imposed by conversational turn-taking and their consequences for the cultural evolution of the structural properties of language. We present an agent-based model of cultural evolution where agents take turns at talk in conversation. When the start of planning for the next turn is constrained by the position of the verb, the stable distribution of dominant word orders across languages evolves to match the actual distribution reasonably well. We suggest that the interface of cognition and interaction should be a more central part of the story of language evolution.
  • Barthel, M., Sauppe, S., Levinson, S. C., & Meyer, A. S. (2016). The timing of utterance planning in task-oriented dialogue: Evidence from a novel list-completion paradigm. Frontiers in Psychology, 7: 1858. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01858.

    Abstract

    In conversation, interlocutors rarely leave long gaps between turns, suggesting that next speak- ers begin to plan their turns while listening to the previous speaker. The present experiment used analyses of speech onset latencies and eye-movements in a task-oriented dialogue paradigm to investigate when speakers start planning their response. Adult German participants heard a confederate describe sets of objects in utterances that either ended in a noun (e.g. Ich habe eine Tür und ein Fahrrad (‘I have a door and a bicycle’)) or a verb form (Ich habe eine Tür und ein Fahrrad besorgt (‘I have gotten a door and a bicycle’)), while the presence or absence of the final verb either was or was not predictable from the preceding sentence structure. In response, participants had to name any unnamed objects they could see in their own display in utterances such as Ich habe ein Ei (‘I have an egg’). The main question was when participants started to plan their response. The results are consistent with the view that speakers begin to plan their turn as soon as sufficient information is available to do so, irrespective of further incoming words.
  • Holler, J., Kendrick, K. H., Casillas, M., & Levinson, S. C. (Eds.). (2016). Turn-Taking in Human Communicative Interaction. Lausanne: Frontiers Media. doi:10.3389/978-2-88919-825-2.

    Abstract

    The core use of language is in face-to-face conversation. This is characterized by rapid turn-taking. This turn-taking poses a number central puzzles for the psychology of language. Consider, for example, that in large corpora the gap between turns is on the order of 100 to 300 ms, but the latencies involved in language production require minimally between 600ms (for a single word) or 1500 ms (for as simple sentence). This implies that participants in conversation are predicting the ends of the incoming turn and preparing in advance. But how is this done? What aspects of this prediction are done when? What happens when the prediction is wrong? What stops participants coming in too early? If the system is running on prediction, why is there consistently a mode of 100 to 300 ms in response time? The timing puzzle raises further puzzles: it seems that comprehension must run parallel with the preparation for production, but it has been presumed that there are strict cognitive limitations on more than one central process running at a time. How is this bottleneck overcome? Far from being 'easy' as some psychologists have suggested, conversation may be one of the most demanding cognitive tasks in our everyday lives. Further questions naturally arise: how do children learn to master this demanding task, and what is the developmental trajectory in this domain? Research shows that aspects of turn-taking such as its timing are remarkably stable across languages and cultures, but the word order of languages varies enormously. How then does prediction of the incoming turn work when the verb (often the informational nugget in a clause) is at the end? Conversely, how can production work fast enough in languages that have the verb at the beginning, thereby requiring early planning of the whole clause? What happens when one changes modality, as in sign languages -- with the loss of channel constraints is turn-taking much freer? And what about face-to-face communication amongst hearing individuals -- do gestures, gaze, and other body behaviors facilitate turn-taking? One can also ask the phylogenetic question: how did such a system evolve? There seem to be parallels (analogies) in duetting bird species, and in a variety of monkey species, but there is little evidence of anything like this among the great apes. All this constitutes a neglected set of problems at the heart of the psychology of language and of the language sciences. This research topic welcomes contributions from right across the board, for example from psycholinguists, developmental psychologists, students of dialogue and conversation analysis, linguists interested in the use of language, phoneticians, corpus analysts and comparative ethologists or psychologists. We welcome contributions of all sorts, for example original research papers, opinion pieces, and reviews of work in subfields that may not be fully understood in other subfields.
  • Levinson, S. C. (2016). “Process and perish” or multiple buffers with push-down stacks? [Commentary on Christiansen & Slater]. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 39: e81. doi:10.1017/S0140525X15000862.

    Abstract

    This commentary raises two issues: (1) Language processing is hastened not only by internal pressures but also externally by turntaking in language use; (2) the theory requires nested levels of processing, but linguistic levels do not fully nest; further, it would seem to require multiple memory buffers, otherwise there’s no obvious treatment for discontinuous structures, or for verbatim recall.
  • Levinson, S. C. (2016). Language and mind: Let's get the issues straight! In S. D. Blum (Ed.), Making sense of language: Readings in culture and communication [3rd ed.] (pp. 68-80). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Levinson, S. C. (2016). Turn-taking in human communication, origins, and implications for language processing. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 20(1), 6-14. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2015.10.010.

    Abstract

    Most language usage is interactive, involving rapid turn-taking. The turn-taking system has a number of striking properties: turns are short and responses are remarkably rapid, but turns are of varying length and often of very complex construction such that the underlying cognitive processing is highly compressed. Although neglected in cognitive science, the system has deep implications for language processing and acquisition that are only now becoming clear. Appearing earlier in ontogeny than linguistic competence, it is also found across all the major primate clades. This suggests a possible phylogenetic continuity, which may provide key insights into language evolution.
  • Levinson, S. C. (2016). The countable singulare tantum. In A. Reuneker, R. Boogaart, & S. Lensink (Eds.), Aries netwerk: Een constructicon (pp. 145-146). Leiden: Leiden University.
  • Bögels, S., Magyari, L., & Levinson, S. C. (2015). Neural signatures of response planning occur midway through an incoming question in conversation. Scientific Reports, 5: 12881. doi:10.1038/srep12881.

    Abstract

    A striking puzzle about language use in everyday conversation is that turn-taking latencies are usually very short, whereas planning language production takes much longer. This implies overlap between language comprehension and production processes, but the nature and extent of such overlap has never been studied directly. Combining an interactive quiz paradigm with EEG measurements in an innovative way, we show that production planning processes start as soon as possible, that is, within half a second after the answer to a question can be retrieved (up to several seconds before the end of the question). Localization of ERP data shows early activation even of brain areas related to late stages of production planning (e.g., syllabification). Finally, oscillation results suggest an attention switch from comprehension to production around the same time frame. This perspective from interactive language use throws new light on the performance characteristics that language competence involves.
  • Bögels, S., Kendrick, K. H., & Levinson, S. C. (2015). Never say no… How the brain interprets the pregnant pause in conversation. PLoS One, 10(12): e0145474. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0145474.

    Abstract

    In conversation, negative responses to invitations, requests, offers, and the like are more likely to occur with a delay – conversation analysts talk of them as dispreferred. Here we examine the contrastive cognitive load ‘yes’ and ‘no’ responses make, either when relatively fast (300 ms after question offset) or delayed (1000 ms). Participants heard short dialogues contrasting in speed and valence of response while having their EEG recorded. We found that a fast ‘no’ evokes an N400-effect relative to a fast ‘yes’; however this contrast disappeared in the delayed responses. 'No' responses however elicited a late frontal positivity both if they were fast and if they were delayed. We interpret these results as follows: a fast ‘no’ evoked an N400 because an immediate response is expected to be positive – this effect disappears as the response time lengthens because now in ordinary conversation the probability of a ‘no’ has increased. However, regardless of the latency of response, a ‘no’ response is associated with a late positivity, since a negative response is always dispreferred. Together these results show that negative responses to social actions exact a higher cognitive load, but especially when least expected, in immediate response.

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  • Casillas, M., De Vos, C., Crasborn, O., & Levinson, S. C. (2015). The perception of stroke-to-stroke turn boundaries in signed conversation. In D. C. Noelle, R. Dale, A. S. Warlaumont, J. Yoshimi, T. Matlock, C. D. Jennings, & P. R. Maglio (Eds.), Proceedings of the 37th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society (CogSci 2015) (pp. 315-320). Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society.

    Abstract

    Speaker transitions in conversation are often brief, with minimal vocal overlap. Signed languages appear to defy this pattern with frequent, long spans of simultaneous signing. But recent evidence suggests that turn boundaries in signed language may only include the content-bearing parts of the turn (from the first stroke to the last), and not all turn-related movement (from first preparation to final retraction). We tested whether signers were able to anticipate “stroke-to-stroke” turn boundaries with only minimal conversational context. We found that, indeed, signers anticipated turn boundaries at the ends of turn-final strokes. Signers often responded early, especially when the turn was long or contained multiple possible end points. Early responses for long turns were especially apparent for interrogatives—long interrogative turns showed much greater anticipation compared to short ones.
  • Dingemanse, M., Roberts, S. G., Baranova, J., Blythe, J., Drew, P., Floyd, S., Gisladottir, R. S., Kendrick, K. H., Levinson, S. C., Manrique, E., Rossi, G., & Enfield, N. J. (2015). Universal Principles in the Repair of Communication Problems. PLoS One, 10(9): e0136100. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0136100.

    Abstract

    There would be little adaptive value in a complex communication system like human language if there were no ways to detect and correct problems. A systematic comparison of conversation in a broad sample of the world’s languages reveals a universal system for the real-time resolution of frequent breakdowns in communication. In a sample of 12 languages of 8 language families of varied typological profiles we find a system of ‘other-initiated repair’, where the recipient of an unclear message can signal trouble and the sender can repair the original message. We find that this system is frequently used (on average about once per 1.4 minutes in any language), and that it has detailed common properties, contrary to assumptions of radical cultural variation. Unrelated languages share the same three functionally distinct types of repair initiator for signalling problems and use them in the same kinds of contexts. People prefer to choose the type that is the most specific possible, a principle that minimizes cost both for the sender being asked to fix the problem and for the dyad as a social unit. Disruption to the conversation is kept to a minimum, with the two-utterance repair sequence being on average no longer that the single utterance which is being fixed. The findings, controlled for historical relationships, situation types and other dependencies, reveal the fundamentally cooperative nature of human communication and offer support for the pragmatic universals hypothesis: while languages may vary in the organization of grammar and meaning, key systems of language use may be largely similar across cultural groups. They also provide a fresh perspective on controversies about the core properties of language, by revealing a common infrastructure for social interaction which may be the universal bedrock upon which linguistic diversity rests.

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  • Gisladottir, R. S., Chwilla, D., & Levinson, S. C. (2015). Conversation electrified: ERP correlates of speech act recognition in underspecified utterances. PLoS One, 10(3): e0120068. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0120068.

    Abstract

    The ability to recognize speech acts (verbal actions) in conversation is critical for everyday interaction. However, utterances are often underspecified for the speech act they perform, requiring listeners to rely on the context to recognize the action. The goal of this study was to investigate the time-course of auditory speech act recognition in action-underspecified utterances and explore how sequential context (the prior action) impacts this process. We hypothesized that speech acts are recognized early in the utterance to allow for quick transitions between turns in conversation. Event-related potentials (ERPs) were recorded while participants listened to spoken dialogues and performed an action categorization task. The dialogues contained target utterances that each of which could deliver three distinct speech acts depending on the prior turn. The targets were identical across conditions, but differed in the type of speech act performed and how it fit into the larger action sequence. The ERP results show an early effect of action type, reflected by frontal positivities as early as 200 ms after target utterance onset. This indicates that speech act recognition begins early in the turn when the utterance has only been partially processed. Providing further support for early speech act recognition, actions in highly constraining contexts did not elicit an ERP effect to the utterance-final word. We take this to show that listeners can recognize the action before the final word through predictions at the speech act level. However, additional processing based on the complete utterance is required in more complex actions, as reflected by a posterior negativity at the final word when the speech act is in a less constraining context and a new action sequence is initiated. These findings demonstrate that sentence comprehension in conversational contexts crucially involves recognition of verbal action which begins as soon as it can.
  • Hilbrink, E., Gattis, M., & Levinson, S. C. (2015). Early developmental changes in the timing of turn-taking: A longitudinal study of mother-infant interaction. Frontiers in Psychology, 6: 1492. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01492.

    Abstract

    To accomplish a smooth transition in conversation from one speaker to the next, a tight coordination of interaction between speakers is required. Recent studies of adult conversation suggest that this close timing of interaction may well be a universal feature of conversation. In the present paper, we set out to assess the development of this close timing of turns in infancy in vocal exchanges between mothers and infants. Previous research has demonstrated an early sensitivity to timing in interactions (e.g. Murray & Trevarthen, 1985). In contrast, less is known about infants’ abilities to produce turns in a timely manner and existing findings are rather patchy. We conducted a longitudinal study of twelve mother-infant dyads in free-play interactions at the ages of 3, 4, 5, 9, 12 and 18 months. Based on existing work and the predictions made by the Interaction Engine Hypothesis (Levinson, 2006), we expected that infants would begin to develop the temporal properties of turn-taking early in infancy but that their timing of turns would slow down at 12 months, which is around the time when infants start to produce their first words. Findings were consistent with our predictions: Infants were relatively fast at timing their turn early in infancy but slowed down towards the end of the first year. Furthermore, the changes observed in infants’ turn-timing skills were not caused by changes in maternal timing, which remained stable across the 3-18 month period. However, the slowing down of turn-timing started somewhat earlier than predicted: at 9 months.
  • Holler, J., Kendrick, K. H., Casillas, M., & Levinson, S. C. (2015). Editorial: Turn-taking in human communicative interaction. Frontiers in Psychology, 6: 1919. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01919.
  • Levinson, S. C. (2015). John Joseph Gumperz (1922–2013) [Obituary]. American Anthropologist, 117(1), 212-224. doi:10.1111/aman.12185.
  • Levinson, S. C. (2015). Other-initiated repair in Yélî Dnye: Seeing eye-to-eye in the language of Rossel Island. Open Linguistics, 1(1), 386-410. doi:10.1515/opli-2015-0009.

    Abstract

    Other-initiated repair (OIR) is the fundamental back-up system that ensures the effectiveness of human communication in its primordial niche, conversation. This article describes the interactional and linguistic patterns involved in other-initiated repair in Yélî Dnye, the Papuan language of Rossel Island, Papua New Guinea. The structure of the article is based on the conceptual set of distinctions described in Chapters 1 and 2 of the special issue, and describes the major properties of the Rossel Island system, and the ways in which OIR in this language both conforms to familiar European patterns and deviates from those patterns. Rossel Island specialities include lack of a Wh-word open class repair initiator, and a heavy reliance on visual signals that makes it possible both to initiate repair and confirm it non-verbally. But the overall system conforms to universal expectations.
  • Levinson, S. C., & Torreira, F. (2015). Timing in turn-taking and its implications for processing models of language. Frontiers in Psychology, 6: 731. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00731.

    Abstract

    The core niche for language use is in verbal interaction, involving the rapid exchange of turns at talking. This paper reviews the extensive literature about this system, adding new statistical analyses of behavioural data where they have been missing, demonstrating that turn-taking has the systematic properties originally noted by Sacks, Schegloff and Jefferson (1974; hereafter SSJ). This system poses some significant puzzles for current theories of language processing: the gaps between turns are short (of the order of 200 ms), but the latencies involved in language production are much longer (over 600 ms). This seems to imply that participants in conversation must predict (or ‘project’ as SSJ have it) the end of the current speaker’s turn in order to prepare their response in advance. This in turn implies some overlap between production and comprehension despite their use of common processing resources. Collecting together what is known behaviourally and experimentally about the system, the space for systematic explanations of language processing for conversation can be significantly narrowed, and we sketch some first model of the mental processes involved for the participant preparing to speak next.
  • Norcliffe, E., Konopka, A. E., Brown, P., & Levinson, S. C. (2015). Word order affects the time course of sentence formulation in Tzeltal. Language, Cognition and Neuroscience, 30(9), 1187-1208. doi:10.1080/23273798.2015.1006238.

    Abstract

    The scope of planning during sentence formulation is known to be flexible, as it can be influenced by speakers' communicative goals and language production pressures (among other factors). Two eye-tracked picture description experiments tested whether the time course of formulation is also modulated by grammatical structure and thus whether differences in linear word order across languages affect the breadth and order of conceptual and linguistic encoding operations. Native speakers of Tzeltal [a primarily verb–object–subject (VOS) language] and Dutch [a subject–verb–object (SVO) language] described pictures of transitive events. Analyses compared speakers' choice of sentence structure across events with more accessible and less accessible characters as well as the time course of formulation for sentences with different word orders. Character accessibility influenced subject selection in both languages in subject-initial and subject-final sentences, ruling against a radically incremental formulation process. In Tzeltal, subject-initial word orders were preferred over verb-initial orders when event characters had matching animacy features, suggesting a possible role for similarity-based interference in influencing word order choice. Time course analyses revealed a strong effect of sentence structure on formulation: In subject-initial sentences, in both Tzeltal and Dutch, event characters were largely fixated sequentially, while in verb-initial sentences in Tzeltal, relational information received priority over encoding of either character during the earliest stages of formulation. The results show a tight parallelism between grammatical structure and the order of encoding operations carried out during sentence formulation.
  • Roberts, S. G., Torreira, F., & Levinson, S. C. (2015). The effects of processing and sequence organisation on the timing of turn taking: A corpus study. Frontiers in Psychology, 6: 509. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00509.

    Abstract

    The timing of turn taking in conversation is extremely rapid given the cognitive demands on speakers to comprehend, plan and execute turns in real time. Findings from psycholinguistics predict that the timing of turn taking is influenced by demands on processing, such as word frequency or syntactic complexity. An alternative view comes from the field of conversation analysis, which predicts that the rules of turn-taking and sequence organization may dictate the variation in gap durations (e.g. the functional role of each turn in communication). In this paper, we estimate the role of these two different kinds of factors in determining the speed of turn-taking in conversation. We use the Switchboard corpus of English telephone conversation, already richly annotated for syntactic structure speech act sequences, and segmental alignment. To this we add further information including Floor Transfer Offset (the amount of time between the end of one turn and the beginning of the next), word frequency, concreteness, and surprisal values. We then apply a novel statistical framework ('random forests') to show that these two dimensions are interwoven together with indexical properties of the speakers as explanatory factors determining the speed of response. We conclude that an explanation of the of the timing of turn taking will require insights from both processing and sequence organisation.
  • Sicoli, M. A., Stivers, T., Enfield, N. J., & Levinson, S. C. (2015). Marked initial pitch in questions signals marked communicative function. Language and Speech, 58(2), 204-223. doi:10.1177/0023830914529247.

    Abstract

    In conversation, the initial pitch of an utterance can provide an early phonetic cue of the communicative function, the speech act, or the social action being implemented. We conducted quantitative acoustic measurements and statistical analyses of pitch in over 10,000 utterances, including 2512 questions, their responses, and about 5000 other utterances by 180 total speakers from a corpus of 70 natural conversations in 10 languages. We measured pitch at first prominence in a speaker’s utterance and discriminated utterances by language, speaker, gender, question form, and what social action is achieved by the speaker’s turn. Through applying multivariate logistic regression we found that initial pitch that significantly deviated from the speaker’s median pitch level was predictive of the social action of the question. In questions designed to solicit agreement with an evaluation rather than information, pitch was divergent from a speaker’s median predictably in the top 10% of a speakers range. This latter finding reveals a kind of iconicity in the relationship between prosody and social action in which a marked pitch correlates with a marked social action. Thus, we argue that speakers rely on pitch to provide an early signal for recipients that the question is not to be interpreted through its literal semantics but rather through an inference.
  • Torreira, F., Bögels, S., & Levinson, S. C. (2015). Breathing for answering: The time course of response planning in conversation. Frontiers in Psychology, 6: 284. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00284.

    Abstract

    In this study, we investigate the timing of pre-answer inbreaths in order to shed light on the time course of response planning and execution in conversational turn-taking. Using acoustic and inductive plethysmography recordings of seven dyadic conversations in Dutch, we show that pre-answer inbreaths in conversation typically begin briefly after the end of questions. We also show that the presence of a pre-answer inbreath usually co-occurs with substantially delayed answers, with a modal latency of 576 ms vs. 100 ms for answers not preceded by an inbreath. Based on previously reported minimal latencies for internal intercostal activation and the production of speech sounds, we propose that vocal responses, either in the form of a pre-utterance inbreath or of speech proper when an inbreath is not produced, are typically launched in reaction to information present in the last portion of the interlocutor’s turn. We also show that short responses are usually made on residual breath, while longer responses are more often preceded by an inbreath. This relation of inbreaths to answer length suggests that by the time an inbreath is launched, typically during the last few hundred milliseconds of the question, the length of the answer is often prepared to some extent. Together, our findings are consistent with a two-stage model of response planning in conversational turn-taking: early planning of content often carried out in overlap with the incoming turn, and late launching of articulation based on the identification of turn-final cues
  • De Vos, C., Torreira, F., & Levinson, S. C. (2015). Turn-timing in signed conversations: Coordinating stroke-to-stroke turn boundaries. Frontiers in Psychology, 6: 268. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00268.

    Abstract

    In spoken interactions, interlocutors carefully plan and time their utterances, minimising gaps and overlaps between consecutive turns. Cross-linguistic comparison has indicated that spoken languages vary only minimally in terms of turn-timing, and language acquisition research has shown pre-linguistic vocal turn-taking in the first half year of life. These observations suggest that the turn-taking system may provide a fundamental basis for our linguistic capacities. The question remains however to what extent our capacity for rapid turn-taking is determined by modality constraints. The avoidance of overlapping turns could be motivated by the difficulty of hearing and speaking at the same time. If so, turn-taking in sign might show greater toleration for overlap. Alternatively, signed conversations may show a similar distribution of turn-timing as spoken languages, thus avoiding both gaps and overlaps. To address this question we look at turn-timing in question-answer sequences in spontaneous conversations of Sign Language of the Netherlands. The findings indicate that although there is considerable overlap in two or more signers' articulators in conversation, when proper allowance is made for onset preparation, post-utterance retraction and the intentional holding of signs for response, turn-taking latencies in sign look remarkably like those reported for spoken language. This is consistent with the possibility that, at least with regard to responses to questions, speakers and signers follow similar time courses in planning and producing their utterances in on-going conversation. This suggests that turn-taking systems may well be a shared cognitive infrastructure underlying all modern human languages, both spoken and signed.
  • Dediu, D., & Levinson, S. C. (2014). Language and speech are old: A review of the evidence and consequences for modern linguistic diversity. In E. A. Cartmill, S. G. Roberts, H. Lyn, & H. Cornish (Eds.), The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 10th International Conference (pp. 421-422). Singapore: World Scientific.
  • Dediu, D., & Levinson, S. C. (2014). The time frame of the emergence of modern language and its implications. In D. Dor, C. Knight, & J. Lewis (Eds.), The social origins of language (pp. 184-195). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Hagoort, P., & Levinson, S. C. (2014). Neuropragmatics. In M. S. Gazzaniga, & G. R. Mangun (Eds.), The cognitive neurosciences (5th ed., pp. 667-674). Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.
  • Levinson, S. C., & Majid, A. (2014). Differential ineffability and the senses. Mind & Language, 29, 407-427. doi:10.1111/mila.12057.

    Abstract

    neffability, the degree to which percepts or concepts resist linguistic coding, is a fairly unexplored nook of cognitive science. Although philosophical preoccupations with qualia or nonconceptual content certainly touch upon the area, there has been little systematic thought and hardly any empirical work in recent years on the subject. We argue that ineffability is an important domain for the cognitive sciences. For examining differential ineffability across the senses may be able to tell us important things about how the mind works, how different modalities talk to one another, and how language does, or does not, interact with other mental faculties.
  • Levinson, S. C. (2014). Language and Wallace's problem [Review of the books More than nature needs: Language, mind and evolution by D. Bickerton and A natural history of human thinking by M. Tomasello]. Science, 344, 1458-1459. doi:10.1126/science.1252988.
  • Levinson, S. C. (2014). Language evolution. In N. J. Enfield, P. Kockelman, & J. Sidnell (Eds.), The Cambridge handbook of linguistic anthropology (pp. 309-324). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Levinson, S. C. (2014). Pragmatics as the origin of recursion. In F. Lowenthal, & L. Lefebvre (Eds.), Language and recursion (pp. 3-13). Berlin: Springer. doi:10.1007/978-1-4614-9414-0_1.

    Abstract

    There has been a recent spate of work on recursion as a central design feature of language and specifically of syntax. This short report points out that there is little evidence that unlimited recursion, understood as centre embedding, is typical of natural language syntax. Nevertheless, embedded pragmatic construals seem available in every language. Further, much deeper centre embedding can be found in dialogue or conversation structure than can be found in syntax. Existing accounts for the ‘performance’ limitations on centre embedding are thus thrown in doubt. Dialogue materials suggest that centre embedding is perhaps a core part of the human interaction system and is for some reason much more highly restricted in syntax than in other aspects of cognition
  • Levinson, S. C., & Holler, J. (2014). The origin of human multi-modal communication. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Series B: Biological Sciences, 369(1651): 2013030. doi:10.1098/rstb.2013.0302.

    Abstract

    One reason for the apparent gulf between animal and human communication systems is that the focus has been on the presence or the absence of language as a complex expressive system built on speech. But language normally occurs embedded within an interactional exchange of multi-modal signals. If this larger perspective takes central focus, then it becomes apparent that human communication has a layered structure, where the layers may be plausibly assigned different phylogenetic and evolutionary origins—especially in the light of recent thoughts on the emergence of voluntary breathing and spoken language. This perspective helps us to appreciate the different roles that the different modalities play in human communication, as well as how they function as one integrated system despite their different roles and origins. It also offers possibilities for reconciling the ‘gesture-first hypothesis’ with that of gesture and speech having evolved together, hand in hand—or hand in mouth, rather—as one system.
  • Magyari, L., Bastiaansen, M. C. M., De Ruiter, J. P., & Levinson, S. C. (2014). Early anticipation lies behind the speed of response in conversation. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 26(11), 2530-2539. doi:10.1162/jocn_a_00673.

    Abstract

    RTs in conversation, with average gaps of 200 msec and often less, beat standard RTs, despite the complexity of response and the lag in speech production (600 msec or more). This can only be achieved by anticipation of timing and content of turns in conversation, about which little is known. Using EEG and an experimental task with conversational stimuli, we show that estimation of turn durations are based on anticipating the way the turn would be completed. We found a neuronal correlate of turn-end anticipation localized in ACC and inferior parietal lobule, namely a beta-frequency desynchronization as early as 1250 msec, before the end of the turn. We suggest that anticipation of the other's utterance leads to accurately timed transitions in everyday conversations.
  • Roberts, S. G., Dediu, D., & Levinson, S. C. (2014). Detecting differences between the languages of Neandertals and modern humans. In E. A. Cartmill, S. G. Roberts, H. Lyn, & H. Cornish (Eds.), The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 10th International Conference (pp. 501-502). Singapore: World Scientific.

    Abstract

    Dediu and Levinson (2013) argue that Neandertals had essentially modern language and speech, and that they were in genetic contact with the ancestors of modern humans during our dispersal out of Africa. This raises the possibility of cultural and linguistic contact between the two human lineages. If such contact did occur, then it might have influenced the cultural evolution of the languages. Since the genetic traces of contact with Neandertals are limited to the populations outside of Africa, Dediu & Levinson predict that there may be structural differences between the present-day languages derived from languages in contact with Neanderthals, and those derived from languages that were not influenced by such contact. Since the signature of such deep contact might reside in patterns of features, they suggested that machine learning methods may be able to detect these differences. This paper attempts to test this hypothesis and to estimate particular linguistic features that are potential candidates for carrying a signature of Neandertal languages.
  • Dediu, D., Cysouw, M., Levinson, S. C., Baronchelli, A., Christiansen, M. H., Croft, W., Evans, N., Garrod, S., Gray, R., Kandler, A., & Lieven, E. (2013). Cultural evolution of language. In P. J. Richerson, & M. H. Christiansen (Eds.), Cultural evolution: Society, technology, language, and religion. Strüngmann Forum Reports, vol. 12 (pp. 303-332). Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

    Abstract

    This chapter argues that an evolutionary cultural approach to language not only has already proven fruitful, but it probably holds the key to understand many puzzling aspects of language, its change and origins. The chapter begins by highlighting several still common misconceptions about language that might seem to call into question a cultural evolutionary approach. It explores the antiquity of language and sketches a general evolutionary approach discussing the aspects of function, fi tness, replication, and selection, as well the relevant units of linguistic evolution. In this context, the chapter looks at some fundamental aspects of linguistic diversity such as the nature of the design space, the mechanisms generating it, and the shape and fabric of language. Given that biology is another evolutionary system, its complex coevolution with language needs to be understood in order to have a proper theory of language. Throughout the chapter, various challenges are identifi ed and discussed, sketching promising directions for future research. The chapter ends by listing the necessary data, methods, and theoretical developments required for a grounded evolutionary approach to language.
  • Dediu, D., & Levinson, S. C. (2013). On the antiquity of language: The reinterpretation of Neandertal linguistic capacities and its consequences. Frontiers in Language Sciences, 4: 397. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00397.

    Abstract

    It is usually assumed that modern language is a recent phenomenon, coinciding with the emergence of modern humans themselves. Many assume as well that this is the result of a single, sudden mutation giving rise to the full “modern package”. However, we argue here that recognizably modern language is likely an ancient feature of our genus pre-dating at least the common ancestor of modern humans and Neandertals about half a million years ago. To this end, we adduce a broad range of evidence from linguistics, genetics, palaeontology and archaeology clearly suggesting that Neandertals shared with us something like modern speech and language. This reassessment of the antiquity of modern language, from the usually quoted 50,000-100,000 years to half a million years, has profound consequences for our understanding of our own evolution in general and especially for the sciences of speech and language. As such, it argues against a saltationist scenario for the evolution of language, and towards a gradual process of culture-gene co-evolution extending to the present day. Another consequence is that the present-day linguistic diversity might better reflect the properties of the design space for language and not just the vagaries of history, and could also contain traces of the languages spoken by other human forms such as the Neandertals.
  • Enfield, N. J., Dingemanse, M., Baranova, J., Blythe, J., Brown, P., Dirksmeyer, T., Drew, P., Floyd, S., Gipper, S., Gisladottir, R. S., Hoymann, G., Kendrick, K. H., Levinson, S. C., Magyari, L., Manrique, E., Rossi, G., San Roque, L., & Torreira, F. (2013). Huh? What? – A first survey in 21 languages. In M. Hayashi, G. Raymond, & J. Sidnell (Eds.), Conversational repair and human understanding (pp. 343-380). New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Abstract

    Introduction A comparison of conversation in twenty-one languages from around the world reveals commonalities and differences in the way that people do open-class other-initiation of repair (Schegloff, Jefferson, and Sacks, 1977; Drew, 1997). We find that speakers of all of the spoken languages in the sample make use of a primary interjection strategy (in English it is Huh?), where the phonetic form of the interjection is strikingly similar across the languages: a monosyllable featuring an open non-back vowel [a, æ, ə, ʌ], often nasalized, usually with rising intonation and sometimes an [h-] onset. We also find that most of the languages have another strategy for open-class other-initiation of repair, namely the use of a question word (usually “what”). Here we find significantly more variation across the languages. The phonetic form of the question word involved is completely different from language to language: e.g., English [wɑt] versus Cha'palaa [ti] versus Duna [aki]. Furthermore, the grammatical structure in which the repair-initiating question word can or must be expressed varies within and across languages. In this chapter we present data on these two strategies – primary interjections like Huh? and question words like What? – with discussion of possible reasons for the similarities and differences across the languages. We explore some implications for the notion of repair as a system, in the context of research on the typology of language use. The general outline of this chapter is as follows. We first discuss repair as a system across languages and then introduce the focus of the chapter: open-class other-initiation of repair. A discussion of the main findings follows, where we identify two alternative strategies in the data: an interjection strategy (Huh?) and a question word strategy (What?). Formal features and possible motivations are discussed for the interjection strategy and the question word strategy in order. A final section discusses bodily behavior including posture, eyebrow movements and eye gaze, both in spoken languages and in a sign language.
  • Levinson, S. C. (2013). Action formation and ascription. In T. Stivers, & J. Sidnell (Eds.), The handbook of conversation analysis (pp. 103-130). Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell. doi:10.1002/9781118325001.ch6.

    Abstract

    Since the core matrix for language use is interaction, the main job of language is not to express propositions or abstract meanings, but to deliver actions. For in order to respond in interaction we have to ascribe to the prior turn a primary ‘action’ – variously thought of as an ‘illocution’, ‘speech act’, ‘move’, etc. – to which we then respond. The analysis of interaction also relies heavily on attributing actions to turns, so that, e.g., sequences can be characterized in terms of actions and responses. Yet the process of action ascription remains way understudied. We don’t know much about how it is done, when it is done, nor even what kind of inventory of possible actions might exist, or the degree to which they are culturally variable. The study of action ascription remains perhaps the primary unfulfilled task in the study of language use, and it needs to be tackled from conversationanalytic, psycholinguistic, cross-linguistic and anthropological perspectives. In this talk I try to take stock of what we know, and derive a set of goals for and constraints on an adequate theory. Such a theory is likely to employ, I will suggest, a top-down plus bottom-up account of action perception, and a multi-level notion of action which may resolve some of the puzzles that have repeatedly arisen.
  • Levinson, S. C. (2013). Cross-cultural universals and communication structures. In M. A. Arbib (Ed.), Language, music, and the brain: A mysterious relationship (pp. 67-80). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    Abstract

    Given the diversity of languages, it is unlikely that the human capacity for language resides in rich universal syntactic machinery. More likely, it resides centrally in the capacity for vocal learning combined with a distinctive ethology for communicative interaction, which together (no doubt with other capacities) make diverse languages learnable. This chapter focuses on face-to-face communication, which is characterized by the mapping of sounds and multimodal signals onto speech acts and which can be deeply recursively embedded in interaction structure, suggesting an interactive origin for complex syntax. These actions are recognized through Gricean intention recognition, which is a kind of “ mirroring” or simulation distinct from the classic mirror neuron system. The multimodality of conversational interaction makes evident the involvement of body, hand, and mouth, where the burden on these can be shifted, as in the use of speech and gesture, or hands and face in sign languages. Such shifts having taken place during the course of human evolution. All this suggests a slightly different approach to the mystery of music, whose origins should also be sought in joint action, albeit with a shift from turn-taking to simultaneous expression, and with an affective quality that may tap ancient sources residual in primate vocalization. The deep connection of language to music can best be seen in the only universal form of music, namely song.
  • Levinson, S. C. (2013). Recursion in pragmatics. Language, 89, 149-162. doi:10.1353/lan.2013.0005.

    Abstract

    There has been a recent spate of work on recursion as a central design feature of language. This short report points out that there is little evidence that unlimited recursion, understood as center-embedding, is typical of natural language syntax. Nevertheless, embedded pragmatic construals seem available in every language. Further, much deeper center-embedding can be found in dialogue or conversation structure than can be found in syntax. Existing accounts for the 'performance' limitations on center-embedding are thus thrown into doubt. Dialogue materials suggest that center-embedding is perhaps a core part of the human interaction system, and is for some reason much more highly restricted in syntax than in other aspects of cognition.
  • Levinson, S. C., & Dediu, D. (2013). The interplay of genetic and cultural factors in ongoing language evolution. In P. J. Richerson, & M. H. Christiansen (Eds.), Cultural evolution: Society, technology, language, and religion. Strüngmann Forum Reports, vol. 12 (pp. 219-232). Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.
  • Levinson, S. C., & Majid, A. (2013). The island of time: Yélî Dnye, the language of Rossel Island. Frontiers in Psychology, 4: 61. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00061.

    Abstract

    This paper describes the linguistic description of time, the accompanying gestural system, and the “mental time lines” found in the speakers of Yélî Dnye, an isolate language spoken offshore from Papua New Guinea. Like many indigenous languages, Yélî Dnye has no fixed anchoring of time and thus no calendrical time. Instead, time in Yélî Dnye linguistic description is primarily anchored to the time of speaking, with six diurnal tenses and special nominals for n days from coding time; this is supplemented with special constructions for overlapping events. Consequently there is relatively little cross-over or metaphor from space to time. The gesture system, on the other hand, uses pointing to sun position to indicate time of day and may make use of systematic time lines. Experimental evidence fails to show a single robust axis used for mapping time to space. This suggests that there may not be a strong, universal tendency for systematic space-time mappings.
  • Sauppe, S., Norcliffe, E., Konopka, A. E., Van Valin Jr., R. D., & Levinson, S. C. (2013). Dependencies first: Eye tracking evidence from sentence production in Tagalog. In M. Knauff, M. Pauen, N. Sebanz, & I. Wachsmuth (Eds.), Proceedings of the 35th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society (CogSci 2013) (pp. 1265-1270). Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society.

    Abstract

    We investigated the time course of sentence formulation in Tagalog, a verb-initial language in which the verb obligatorily agrees with one of its arguments. Eye-tracked participants described pictures of transitive events. Fixations to the two characters in the events were compared across sentences differing in agreement marking and post-verbal word order. Fixation patterns show evidence for two temporally dissociated phases in Tagalog sentence production. The first, driven by verb agreement, involves early linking of concepts to syntactic functions; the second, driven by word order, involves incremental lexical encoding of these concepts. These results suggest that even the earliest stages of sentence formulation may be guided by a language's grammatical structure.
  • Thompson-Schill, S., Hagoort, P., Dominey, P. F., Honing, H., Koelsch, S., Ladd, D. R., Lerdahl, F., Levinson, S. C., & Steedman, M. (2013). Multiple levels of structure in language and music. In M. A. Arbib (Ed.), Language, music, and the brain: A mysterious relationship (pp. 289-303). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    Abstract

    A forum devoted to the relationship between music and language begins with an implicit assumption: There is at least one common principle that is central to all human musical systems and all languages, but that is not characteristic of (most) other domains. Why else should these two categories be paired together for analysis? We propose that one candidate for a common principle is their structure. In this chapter, we explore the nature of that structure—and its consequences for psychological and neurological processing mechanisms—within and across these two domains.
  • Dediu, D., & Levinson, S. C. (2012). Abstract profiles of structural stability point to universal tendencies, family-specific factors, and ancient connections between languages. PLoS One, 7(9), e45198. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0045198.

    Abstract

    Language is the best example of a cultural evolutionary system, able to retain a phylogenetic signal over many thousands of years. The temporal stability (conservatism) of basic vocabulary is relatively well understood, but the stability of the structural properties of language (phonology, morphology, syntax) is still unclear. Here we report an extensive Bayesian phylogenetic investigation of the structural stability of numerous features across many language families and we introduce a novel method for analyzing the relationships between the “stability profiles” of language families. We found that there is a strong universal component across language families, suggesting the existence of universal linguistic, cognitive and genetic constraints. Against this background, however, each language family has a distinct stability profile, and these profiles cluster by geographic area and likely deep genealogical relationships. These stability profiles reveal, for example, the ancient historical relationships between the Siberian and American language families, presumed to be separated by at least 12,000 years. Thus, such higher-level properties of language seen as an evolutionary system might allow the investigation of ancient connections between languages and shed light on the peopling of the world.

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  • Gisladottir, R. S., Chwilla, D., Schriefers, H., & Levinson, S. C. (2012). Speech act recognition in conversation: Experimental evidence. In N. Miyake, D. Peebles, & R. P. Cooper (Eds.), Proceedings of the 34th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society (CogSci 2012) (pp. 1596-1601). Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society. Retrieved from http://mindmodeling.org/cogsci2012/papers/0282/index.html.

    Abstract

    Recognizing the speech acts in our interlocutors’ utterances is a crucial prerequisite for conversation. However, it is not a trivial task given that the form and content of utterances is frequently underspecified for this level of meaning. In the present study we investigate participants’ competence in categorizing speech acts in such action-underspecific sentences and explore the time-course of speech act inferencing using a self-paced reading paradigm. The results demonstrate that participants are able to categorize the speech acts with very high accuracy, based on limited context and without any prosodic information. Furthermore, the results show that the exact same sentence is processed differently depending on the speech act it performs, with reading times starting to differ already at the first word. These results indicate that participants are very good at “getting” the speech acts, opening up a new arena for experimental research on action recognition in conversation.
  • Janzen, G., Haun, D. B. M., & Levinson, S. C. (2012). Tracking down abstract linguistic meaning: Neural correlates of spatial frame of reference ambiguities in language. PLoS One, 7(2), e30657. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0030657.

    Abstract

    This functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study investigates a crucial parameter in spatial description, namely variants in the frame of reference chosen. Two frames of reference are available in European languages for the description of small-scale assemblages, namely the intrinsic (or object-oriented) frame and the relative (or egocentric) frame. We showed participants a sentence such as “the ball is in front of the man”, ambiguous between the two frames, and then a picture of a scene with a ball and a man – participants had to respond by indicating whether the picture did or did not match the sentence. There were two blocks, in which we induced each frame of reference by feedback. Thus for the crucial test items, participants saw exactly the same sentence and the same picture but now from one perspective, now the other. Using this method, we were able to precisely pinpoint the pattern of neural activation associated with each linguistic interpretation of the ambiguity, while holding the perceptual stimuli constant. Increased brain activity in bilateral parahippocampal gyrus was associated with the intrinsic frame of reference whereas increased activity in the right superior frontal gyrus and in the parietal lobe was observed for the relative frame of reference. The study is among the few to show a distinctive pattern of neural activation for an abstract yet specific semantic parameter in language. It shows with special clarity the nature of the neural substrate supporting each frame of spatial reference
  • Levinson, S. C. (2012). Authorship: Include all institutes in publishing index [Correspondence]. Nature, 485, 582. doi:10.1038/485582c.

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  • Levinson, S. C. (2012). Foreword. In J. B. Carroll, S. C. Levinson, & P. Lee (Eds.), Language, thought, and reality: selected writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf (2nd ed.) (pp. vii-xxiii). Cambridge: MIT Press.
  • Levinson, S. C. (2012). Interrogative intimations: On a possible social economics of interrogatives. In J. P. De Ruiter (Ed.), Questions: Formal, functional and interactional perspectives (pp. 11-32). New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Levinson, S. C. (2012). Kinship and human thought. Science, 336(6084), 988-989. doi:10.1126/science.1222691.

    Abstract

    Language and communication are central to shaping concepts such as kinship categories.
  • Levinson, S. C., & Brown, P. (2012). Put and Take in Yélî Dnye, the Papuan language of Rossel Island. In A. Kopecka, & B. Narasimhan (Eds.), Events of putting and taking: A crosslinguistic perspective (pp. 273-296). Amsterdam: Benjamins.

    Abstract

    This paper describes the linguistic treatment of placement events in the Rossel Island (Papua New Guinea) language Yélî Dnye. Yélî Dnye is unusual in treating PUT and TAKE events symmetrically with a remarkable consistency. In what follows, we first provide a brief background for the language, then describe the six core PUT/TAKE verbs that were drawn upon by Yélî Dnye speakers to describe the great majority of the PUT/TAKE stimuli clips, along with some of their grammatical properties. In Section 5 we describe alternative verbs usable in particular circumstances and give an indication of the basis for variability in responses across speakers. Section 6 presents some reasons why the Yélî verb pattern for expressing PUT and TAKE events is of broad interest.
  • Levinson, S. C. (2012). Preface. In A. Kopecka, & B. Narasimhan (Eds.), Events of putting and taking: A crosslinguistic perspective (pp. xi-xv). Amsterdam: Benjamins.

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  • Levinson, S. C., & Gray, R. D. (2012). Tools from evolutionary biology shed new light on the diversification of languages. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 16(3), 167-173. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2012.01.007.

    Abstract

    Computational methods have revolutionized evolutionary biology. In this paper we explore the impact these methods are now having on our understanding of the forces that both affect the diversification of human languages and shape human cognition. We show how these methods can illuminate problems ranging from the nature of constraints on linguistic variation to the role that social processes play in determining the rate of linguistic change. Throughout the paper we argue that the cognitive sciences should move away from an idealized model of human cognition, to a more biologically realistic model where variation is central.
  • Levinson, S. C. (2012). The original sin of cognitive science. Topics in Cognitive Science, 4, 396-403. doi:10.1111/j.1756-8765.2012.01195.x.

    Abstract

    Classical cognitive science was launched on the premise that the architecture of human cognition is uniform and universal across the species. This premise is biologically impossible and is being actively undermined by, for example, imaging genomics. Anthropology (including archaeology, biological anthropology, linguistics, and cultural anthropology) is, in contrast, largely concerned with the diversification of human culture, language, and biology across time and space—it belongs fundamentally to the evolutionary sciences. The new cognitive sciences that will emerge from the interactions with the biological sciences will focus on variation and diversity, opening the door for rapprochement with anthropology.
  • De Ruiter, J. P., Noordzij, M. L., Newman-Norlund, S., Newman-Norlund, R., Hagoort, P., Levinson, S. C., & Toni, I. (2012). Exploring the cognitive infrastructure of communication. In B. Galantucci, & S. Garrod (Eds.), Experimental Semiotics: Studies on the emergence and evolution of human communication (pp. 51-78). Amsterdam: Benjamins.

    Abstract

    Human communication is often thought about in terms of transmitted messages in a conventional code like a language. But communication requires a specialized interactive intelligence. Senders have to be able to perform recipient design, while receivers need to be able to do intention recognition, knowing that recipient design has taken place. To study this interactive intelligence in the lab, we developed a new task that taps directly into the underlying abilities to communicate in the absence of a conventional code. We show that subjects are remarkably successful communicators under these conditions, especially when senders get feedback from receivers. Signaling is accomplished by the manner in which an instrumental action is performed, such that instrumentally dysfunctional components of an action are used to convey communicative intentions. The findings have important implications for the nature of the human communicative infrastructure, and the task opens up a line of experimentation on human communication.

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  • Whorf, B. L. (2012). Language, thought, and reality: selected writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf [2nd ed.]: introduction by John B. Carroll; foreword by Stephen C. Levinson. (J. B. Carroll, S. C. Levinson, & P. Lee, Eds.). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    Abstract

    The pioneering linguist Benjamin Whorf (1897–1941) grasped the relationship between human language and human thinking: how language can shape our innermost thoughts. His basic thesis is that our perception of the world and our ways of thinking about it are deeply influenced by the structure of the languages we speak. The writings collected in this volume include important papers on the Maya, Hopi, and Shawnee languages, as well as more general reflections on language and meaning. Whorf’s ideas about the relation of language and thought have always appealed to a wide audience, but their reception in expert circles has alternated between dismissal and applause. Recently the language sciences have headed in directions that give Whorf’s thinking a renewed relevance. Hence this new edition of Whorf’s classic work is especially timely. The second edition includes all the writings from the first edition as well as John Carroll’s original introduction, a new foreword by Stephen Levinson of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics that puts Whorf’s work in historical and contemporary context, and new indexes. In addition, this edition offers Whorf’s “Yale Report,” an important work from Whorf’s mature oeuvre.
  • Bohnemeyer, J., Burenhult, N., Enfield, N. J., & Levinson, S. C. (2011). Landscape terms and place names questionnaire. In K. Kendrick, & A. Majid (Eds.), Field manual volume 14 (pp. 19-23). Nijmegen: Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics. doi:10.17617/2.1005606.
  • Brown, P., & Levinson, S. C. (2011). [Politeness: Some universals in language usage, Japanese translation]. Tokyo: Kenkyusha Publishing.

    Abstract

    Japanese translation of Some universals in language usage, 1987, Cambridge University Press
  • Brown, P., & Levinson, S. C. (2011). Politeness: Some universals in language use [Reprint]. In D. Archer, & P. Grundy (Eds.), The pragmatics reader (pp. 283-304). London: Routledge.

    Abstract

    Reprinted with permission of Cambridge University Press from: Brown, P. and Levinson, S. E. (1987) Politeness, (©) 1978, 1987, CUP.
  • Dunn, M., Greenhill, S. J., Levinson, S. C., & Gray, R. D. (2011). Evolved structure of language shows lineage-specific trends in word-order universals. Nature, 473, 79-82. doi:10.1038/nature09923.

    Abstract

    Languages vary widely but not without limit. The central goal of linguistics is to describe the diversity of human languages and explain the constraints on that diversity. Generative linguists following Chomsky have claimed that linguistic diversity must be constrained by innate parameters that are set as a child learns a language1, 2. In contrast, other linguists following Greenberg have claimed that there are statistical tendencies for co-occurrence of traits reflecting universal systems biases3, 4, 5, rather than absolute constraints or parametric variation. Here we use computational phylogenetic methods to address the nature of constraints on linguistic diversity in an evolutionary framework6. First, contrary to the generative account of parameter setting, we show that the evolution of only a few word-order features of languages are strongly correlated. Second, contrary to the Greenbergian generalizations, we show that most observed functional dependencies between traits are lineage-specific rather than universal tendencies. These findings support the view that—at least with respect to word order—cultural evolution is the primary factor that determines linguistic structure, with the current state of a linguistic system shaping and constraining future states.

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  • Enfield, N. J., Kendrick, K. H., De Ruiter, J. P., Stivers, T., & Levinson, S. C. (2011). Building a corpus of spontaneous interaction. In Field manual volume 14 (pp. 29-32). Nijmegen: Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics. doi:10.17617/2.1005610.

    Abstract

    This revised version supersedes all previous versions (e.g., Field Manual 2010).
  • Enfield, N. J., & Levinson, S. C. (2011). Metalanguage for speech acts. In K. Kendrick, & A. Majid (Eds.), Field manual volume 14 (pp. 33-35). Nijmegen: Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics. doi:10.17617/2.1005611.

    Abstract

    This version is reprinted from the 2010 Field Manual
  • Evans, N., Levinson, S. C., Gaby, A., & Majid, A. (2011). Introduction: Reciprocals and semantic typology. In N. Evans, A. Gaby, S. C. Levinson, & A. Majid (Eds.), Reciprocals and semantic typology (pp. 1-28). Amsterdam: Benjamins.

    Abstract

    Reciprocity lies at the heart of social cognition, and with it so does the encoding of reciprocity in language via reciprocal constructions. Despite the prominence of strong universal claims about the semantics of reciprocal constructions, there is considerable descriptive literature on the semantics of reciprocals that seems to indicate variable coding and subtle cross-linguistic differences in meaning of reciprocals, both of which would make it impossible to formulate a single, essentialising definition of reciprocal semantics. These problems make it vital for studies in the semantic typology of reciprocals to employ methodologies that allow the relevant categories to emerge objectively from cross-linguistic comparison of standardised stimulus materials. We situate the rationale for the 20-language study that forms the basis for this book within this empirical approach to semantic typology, and summarise some of the findings.

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  • Evans, N., Gaby, A., Levinson, S. C., & Majid, A. (Eds.). (2011). Reciprocals and semantic typology. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

    Abstract

    Reciprocals are an increasingly hot topic in linguistic research. This reflects the intersection of several factors: the semantic and syntactic complexity of reciprocal constructions, their centrality to some key points of linguistic theorizing (such as Binding Conditions on anaphors within Government and Binding Theory), and the centrality of reciprocity to theories of social structure, human evolution and social cognition. No existing work, however, tackles the question of exactly what reciprocal constructions mean cross-linguistically. Is there a single, Platonic ‘reciprocal’ meaning found in all languages, or is there a cluster of related concepts which are nonetheless impossible to characterize in any single way? That is the central goal of this volume, and it develops and explains new techniques for tackling this question. At the same time, it confronts a more general problem facing semantic typology: how to investigate a category cross-linguistically without pre-loading the definition of the phenomenon on the basis of what is found in more familiar languages.
  • Haun, D. B. M., Rapold, C. J., Janzen, G., & Levinson, S. C. (2011). Plasticity of human spatial memory: Spatial language and cognition covary across cultures. Cognition, 119, 70-80. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2010.12.009.

    Abstract

    The present paper explores cross-cultural variation in spatial cognition by comparing spatial reconstruction tasks by Dutch and Namibian elementary school children. These two communities differ in the way they predominantly express spatial relations in language. Four experiments investigate cognitive strategy preferences across different levels of task-complexity and instruction. Data show a correlation between dominant linguistic spatial frames of reference and performance patterns in non-linguistic spatial memory tasks. This correlation is shown to be stable across an increase of complexity in the spatial array. When instructed to use their respective non-habitual cognitive strategy, participants were not easily able to switch between strategies and their attempts to do so impaired their performance. These results indicate a difference not only in preference but also in competence and suggest that spatial language and non-linguistic preferences and competences in spatial cognition are systematically aligned across human populations.

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  • Levinson, S. C. (2011). Foreword. In D. M. Mark, A. G. Turk, N. Burenhult, & D. Stea (Eds.), Landscape in language: Transdisciplinary perspectives (pp. ix-x). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
  • Levinson, S. C. (2011). Deixis [Reprint]. In D. Archer, & P. Grundy (Eds.), The pragmatics reader (pp. 163-185). London: Routledge.

    Abstract

    Reproduced with permission of Blackwell Publishing from: Levinson, S. C. (2004) 'Deixis'. In: Horn, L.R. and Ward, G. (Eds.) The Handbook of Pragmatics. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, pp. 100-121
  • Levinson, S. C. (2011). Pojmowanie przestrzeni w różnych kulturach [Polish translation of Levinson, S. C. 1998. Studying spatial conceptualization across cultures]. Autoportret, 33, 16-23.

    Abstract

    Polish translation of Levinson, S. C. (1998). Studying spatial conceptualization across cultures: Anthropology and cognitive science. Ethos, 26(1), 7-24. doi:10.1525/eth.1998.26.1.7
  • Levinson, S. C. (2011). Reciprocals in Yélî Dnye, the Papuan language of Rossel Island. In N. Evans, A. Gaby, S. C. Levinson, & A. Majid (Eds.), Reciprocals and semantic typology (pp. 177-194). Amsterdam: Benjamins.

    Abstract

    Yélî Dnye has two discernable dedicated constructions for reciprocal marking. The first and main construction uses a dedicated reciprocal pronoun numo, somewhat like English each other. We can recognise two subconstructions. First, the ‘numo-construction’, where the reciprocal pronoun is a patient of the verb, and where the invariant pronoun numo is obligatorily incorporated, triggering intransitivisation (e.g. A-NPs become absolutive). This subconstruction has complexities, for example in the punctual aspect only, the verb is inflected like a transitive, but with enclitics mismatching actual person/number. In the second variant or subconstruction, the ‘noko-construction’, the same reciprocal pronoun (sometimes case-marked as noko) occurs but now in oblique positions with either transitive or intransitive verbs. The reciprocal element here has some peculiar binding properties. Finally, the second independent construction is a dedicated periphrastic (or woni…woni) construction, glossing ‘the one did X to the other, and the other did X to the one’. It is one of the rare cross-serial dependencies that show that natural languages cannot be modelled by context-free phrase-structure grammars. Finally, the usage of these two distinct constructions is discussed.
  • Levinson, S. C. (2011). Presumptive meanings [Reprint]. In D. Archer, & P. Grundy (Eds.), The pragmatics reader (pp. 86-98). London: Routledge.

    Abstract

    Reprinted with permission of The MIT Press from Levinson (2000) Presumptive meanings: The theory of generalized conversational implicature, pp. 112-118, 116-167, 170-173, 177-180. MIT Press
  • Levinson, S. C. (2011). Three levels of meaning: Essays in honor of Sir John Lyons [Reprint]. In A. Kasher (Ed.), Pragmatics II. London: Routledge.

    Abstract

    Reprint from Stephen C. Levinson, ‘Three Levels of Meaning’, in Frank Palmer (ed.), Grammar and Meaning: Essays in Honor of Sir John Lyons (Cambridge University Press, 1995), pp. 90–115
  • Levinson, S. C., Greenhill, S. J., Gray, R. D., & Dunn, M. (2011). Universal typological dependencies should be detectable in the history of language families. Linguistic Typology, 15, 509-534. doi:10.1515/LITY.2011.034.

    Abstract

    1. Introduction We claim that making sense of the typological diversity of languages demands a historical/evolutionary approach.We are pleased that the target paper (Dunn et al. 2011a) has served to bring discussion of this claim into prominence, and are grateful that leading typologists have taken the time to respond (commentaries denoted by boldface). It is unfortunate though that a number of the commentaries in this issue of LT show significant misunderstandings of our paper. Donohue thinks we were out to show the stability of typological features, but that was not our target at all (although related methods can be used to do that: see, e.g., Greenhill et al. 2010a, Dediu 2011a). Plank seems to think we were arguing against universals of any type, but our target was in fact just the implicational universals of word order that have been the bread and butter of typology. He also seems to think we ignore diachrony, whereas in fact the method introduces diachrony centrally into typological reasoning, thereby potentially revolutionising typology (see Cysouw’s commentary). Levy & Daumé think we were testing for lineage-specificity, whereas that was in fact an outcome (the main finding) of our testing for correlated evolution. Dryer thinks we must account for the distribution of language types around the world, but that was not our aim: our aim was to test the causal connection between linguistic variables by taking the perspective of language evolution (diversification and change). Longobardi & Roberts seem to think we set out to extract family trees from syntactic features, but our goal was in fact to use trees based on lexical cognates and hang reconstructed syntactic states on each node of these trees, thereby reconstructing the processes of language change.
  • Levinson, S. C. (2011). Universals in pragmatics. In P. C. Hogan (Ed.), The Cambridge encyclopedia of the language sciences (pp. 654-657). New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Abstract

    Changing Prospects for Universals in Pragmatics The term PRAGMATICS has come to denote the study of general principles of language use. It is usually understood to contrast with SEMANTICS, the study of encoded meaning, and also, by some authors, to contrast with SOCIOLINGUISTICS and the ethnography of speaking, which are more concerned with local sociocultural practices. Given that pragmaticists come from disciplines as varied as philosophy, sociology, linguistics, communication studies, psychology, and anthropology, it is not surprising that definitions of pragmatics vary. Nevertheless, most authors agree on a list of topics that come under the rubric, including DEIXIS, PRESUPPOSITION, implicature (see CONVERSATIONAL IMPLICATURE), SPEECH-ACTS, and conversational organization (see CONVERSATIONAL ANALYSIS). Here, we can use this extensional definition as a starting point (Levinson 1988; Huang 2007).
  • Majid, A., Evans, N., Gaby, A., & Levinson, S. C. (2011). The semantics of reciprocal constructions across languages: An extensional approach. In N. Evans, A. Gaby, S. C. Levinson, & A. Majid (Eds.), Reciprocals and semantic typology (pp. 29-60). Amsterdam: Benjamins.

    Abstract

    How similar are reciprocal constructions in the semantic parameters they encode? We investigate this question by using an extensional approach, which examines similarity of meaning by examining how constructions are applied over a set of 64 videoclips depicting reciprocal events (Evans et al. 2004). We apply statistical modelling to descriptions from speakers of 20 languages elicited using the videoclips. We show that there are substantial differences in meaning between constructions of different languages.

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  • Majid, A., & Levinson, S. C. (Eds.). (2011). The senses in language and culture [Special Issue]. The Senses & Society, 6(1).
  • Majid, A., & Levinson, S. C. (2011). The senses in language and culture. The Senses & Society, 6(1), 5-18. doi:10.2752/174589311X12893982233551.

    Abstract

    Multiple social science disciplines have converged on the senses in recent years, where formerly the domain of perception was the preserve of psychology. Linguistics, or Language, however, seems to have an ambivalent role in this undertaking. On the one hand, Language with a capital L (language as a general human capacity) is part of the problem. It was the prior focus on language (text) that led to the disregard of the senses. On the other hand, it is language (with a small "l", a particular tongue) that offers key insights into how other peoples onceptualize the senses. In this article, we argue that a systematic cross-cultural approach can reveal fundamental truths about the precise connections between language and the senses. Recurring failures to adequately describe the sensorium across specific languages reveal the intrinsic limits of Language. But the converse does not hold. Failures of expressibility in one language need not hold any implications for the Language faculty per se, and indeed can enlighten us about the possible experiential worlds available to human experience.

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