Stephen C. Levinson

Publications

Displaying 1 - 37 of 37
  • Brown, P., & Levinson, S. C. (2009). Politeness: Some universals in language usage [chapter 1, reprint]. In N. Coupland, & A. Jaworski (Eds.), Sociolinguistics: critical concepts [volume III: Interactional sociolinguistics] (pp. 311-323). London: Routledge.
  • Brown, P., & Levinson, S. C. (2009). Language as mind tools: Learning how to think through speaking. In J. Guo, E. V. Lieven, N. Budwig, S. Ervin-Tripp, K. Nakamura, & S. Ozcaliskan (Eds.), Crosslinguistic approaches to the psychology of language: Research in the traditions of Dan Slobin (pp. 451-464). New York: Psychology Press.

    Abstract

    Speakers of the Mayan language Tzeltal use two frames of reference for spatial reckoning: an absolute system (based on the south/north axis abstracted from the overall slope of the land) and an intrinsic system utilizing spatial axes of the reference object to establish body parts. This paper examines the use of absolute, intrinsic, and landmark cues in descriptions of spatial relations by 22 pairs of Tzeltal children aged between 5 and 17. The data are drawn from interactive space games, where a Director describes a spatial layout in a photo and the Matcher reproduces it with toys. The paper distinguishes use of ad hoc landmarks ('Red Cliffs', 'the electricity post') from genuine absolute reference points ('uphill'/'downhill'/’across’), and shows that adults in this task use absolute ('cow uphill of horse'), intrinsic ('at the tree's side') and landmark ('cow facing Red Cliffs') descriptions to communicate the spatial relations depicted. The youngest children, however, do not use landmark cues at all but rely instead on deictics and on the absolute 'uphill/downhill' terms; landmark terms are still rare at age 8-10. Despite arguments that landmarks are a simpler, more natural, basis for spatial reckoning than absolute terms, there is no evidence for a developmental progression from landmark-based to absolute-based strategies. We relate these observations to Slobin’s ‘thinking for speaking’ argument.
  • Burenhult, N., & Levinson, S. C. (2009). Semplates: A guide to identification and elicitation. In A. Majid (Ed.), Field manual volume 12 (pp. 44-50). Nijmegen: Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics. doi:10.17617/2.883556.

    Abstract

    Semplates are a new descriptive and theoretical concept in lexical semantics, borne out of recent L&C work in several domains. A semplate can be defined as a configuration consisting of distinct layers of lexemes, each layer drawn from a different form class, mapped onto the same abstract semantic template. Within such a lexical layer, the sense relations between the lexical items are inherited from the underlying template. Thus, the whole set of lexical layers and the underlying template form a cross-categorial configuration in the lexicon. The goal of this task is to find new kinds of macrostructure in the lexicon, with a view to cross-linguistic comparison.
  • Enfield, N. J., & Levinson, S. C. (2009). Metalanguage for speech acts. In A. Majid (Ed.), Field manual volume 12 (pp. 51-53). Nijmegen: Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics. doi:10.17617/2.883559.

    Abstract

    People of all cultures have some degree of concern with categorizing types of communicative social action. All languages have words with meanings like speak, say, talk, complain, curse, promise, accuse, nod, wink, point and chant. But the exact distinctions they make will differ in both quantity and quality. How is communicative social action categorised across languages and cultures? The goal of this task is to establish a basis for cross-linguistic comparison of native metalanguages for social action.
  • Enfield, N. J., Levinson, S. C., & Stivers, T. (2009). Social action formulation: A "10-minutes" task. In A. Majid (Ed.), Field manual volume 12 (pp. 54-55). Nijmegen: Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics. doi:10.17617/2.883564.

    Abstract

    Human actions in the social world – like greeting, requesting, complaining, accusing, asking, confirming, etc. – are recognised through the interpretation of signs. Language is where much of the action is, but gesture, facial expression and other bodily actions matter as well. The goal of this task is to establish a maximally rich description of a representative, good quality piece of conversational interaction, which will serve as a reference point for comparative exploration of the status of social actions and their formulation across language
  • Evans, N., & Levinson, S. C. (2009). With diversity in mind: Freeing the language sciences from universal grammar [Author's response]. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 32(5), 472-484. doi:10.1017/S0140525X09990525.

    Abstract

    Our response takes advantage of the wide-ranging commentary to clarify some aspects of our original proposal and augment others. We argue against the generative critics of our coevolutionary program for the language sciences, defend the use of close-to-surface models as minimizing crosslinguistic data distortion, and stress the growing role of stochastic simulations in making generalized historical accounts testable. These methods lead the search for general principles away from idealized representations and towards selective processes. Putting cultural evolution central in understanding language diversity makes learning fundamental in the cognition of language: increasingly powerful models of general learning, paired with channelled caregiver input, seem set to manage language acquisition without recourse to any innate “universal grammar.” Understanding why human language has no clear parallels in the animal world requires a cross-species perspective: crucial ingredients are vocal learning (for which there are clear non-primate parallels) and an intentionattributing cognitive infrastructure that provides a universal base for language evolution. We conclude by situating linguistic diversity within a broader trend towards understanding human cognition through the study of variation in, for example, human genetics, neurocognition, and psycholinguistic processing.
  • Evans, N., & Levinson, S. C. (2009). The myth of language universals: Language diversity and its importance for cognitive science. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 32(5), 429-492. doi:10.1017/S0140525X0999094X.

    Abstract

    Talk of linguistic universals has given cognitive scientists the impression that languages are all built to a common pattern. In fact, there are vanishingly few universals of language in the direct sense that all languages exhibit them. Instead, diversity can be found at almost every level of linguistic organization. This fundamentally changes the object of enquiry from a cognitive science perspective. This target article summarizes decades of cross-linguistic work by typologists and descriptive linguists, showing just how few and unprofound the universal characteristics of language are, once we honestly confront the diversity offered to us by the world's 6,000 to 8,000 languages. After surveying the various uses of “universal,” we illustrate the ways languages vary radically in sound, meaning, and syntactic organization, and then we examine in more detail the core grammatical machinery of recursion, constituency, and grammatical relations. Although there are significant recurrent patterns in organization, these are better explained as stable engineering solutions satisfying multiple design constraints, reflecting both cultural-historical factors and the constraints of human cognition.
  • Levinson, S. C. (2009). Cognitive anthropology. In G. Senft, J. O. Östman, & J. Verschueren (Eds.), Culture and language use (pp. 50-57). Amsterdam: Benjamins.
  • Levinson, S. C., & Majid, A. (2009). Preface and priorities. In A. Majid (Ed.), Field manual volume 12 (pp. III). Nijmegen: Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics.
  • Levinson, S. C. (2009). Language and mind: Let's get the issues straight! In S. D. Blum (Ed.), Making sense of language: Readings in culture and communication (pp. 95-104). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Levinson, S. C. (2009). Foreword. In J. Liep (Ed.), A Papuan plutocracy: Ranked exchange on Rossel Island (pp. ix-xxiii). Copenhagen: Aarhus University Press.
  • Levinson, S. C., & Majid, A. (2009). The role of language in mind. In S. Nolen-Hoeksema, B. Fredrickson, G. Loftus, & W. Wagenaar (Eds.), Atkinson and Hilgard's introduction to psychology (15th ed., pp. 352). London: Cengage learning.
  • Levinson, S. C., & Burenhult, N. (2009). Semplates: A new concept in lexical semantics? Language, 85, 153-174. doi:10.1353/lan.0.0090.

    Abstract

    This short report draws attention to an interesting kind of configuration in the lexicon that seems to have escaped theoretical or systematic descriptive attention. These configurations, which we dub SEMPLATES, consist of an abstract structure or template, which is recurrently instantiated in a number of lexical sets, typically of different form classes. A number of examples from different language families are adduced, and generalizations made about the nature of semplates, which are contrasted to other, perhaps similar, phenomena
  • Noordzij, M., Newman-Norlund, S. E., De Ruiter, J. P., Hagoort, P., Levinson, S. C., & Toni, I. (2009). Brain mechanisms underlying human communication. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 3:14. doi:10.3389/neuro.09.014.2009.

    Abstract

    Human communication has been described as involving the coding-decoding of a conventional symbol system, which could be supported by parts of the human motor system (i.e. the “mirror neurons system”). However, this view does not explain how these conventions could develop in the first place. Here we target the neglected but crucial issue of how people organize their non-verbal behavior to communicate a given intention without pre-established conventions. We have measured behavioral and brain responses in pairs of subjects during communicative exchanges occurring in a real, interactive, on-line social context. In two fMRI studies, we found robust evidence that planning new communicative actions (by a sender) and recognizing the communicative intention of the same actions (by a receiver) relied on spatially overlapping portions of their brains (the right posterior superior temporal sulcus). The response of this region was lateralized to the right hemisphere, modulated by the ambiguity in meaning of the communicative acts, but not by their sensorimotor complexity. These results indicate that the sender of a communicative signal uses his own intention recognition system to make a prediction of the intention recognition performed by the receiver. This finding supports the notion that our communicative abilities are distinct from both sensorimotor processes and language abilities.
  • Rossano, F., Brown, P., & Levinson, S. C. (2009). Gaze, questioning and culture. In J. Sidnell (Ed.), Conversation analysis: Comparative perspectives (pp. 187-249). Cambridge University Press.

    Abstract

    Relatively little work has examined the function of gaze in interaction. Previous research has mainly addressed issues such as next speaker selection (e.g. Lerner 2003) or engagement and disengagement in the conversation (Goodwin 1981). It has looked for gaze behavior in relation to the roles participants are enacting locally, (e.g., speaker or hearer) and in relation to the unit “turn” in the turn taking system (Goodwin 1980, 1981; Kendon 1967). In his seminal work Kendon (1967) claimed that “there is a very clear and quite consistent pattern, namely, that [the speaker] tends to look away as he begins a long utterance, and in many cases somewhat in advance of it; and that he looks up at his interlocutor as the end of the long utterance approaches, usually during the last phase, and he continues to look thereafter.” Goodwin (Goodwin 1980) introducing the listener into the picture proposed the following two rules: Rule1: A speaker should obtain the gaze of his recipient during the course of a turn of talk. Rule2: a recipient should be gazing at the speaker when the speaker is gazing at the hearer. Rossano’s work (2005) has suggested the possibility of a different level of order for gaze in interaction: the sequential level. In particular he found that gaze withdrawal after sustained mutual gaze tends to occur at sequence possible completion and if both participants withdraw the sequence is complete. By sequence here we refer to a unit that is structured around the notion of adjacency pair. The latter refers to two turns uttered by different speakers orderly organized (first part and second part) and pair type related (greeting-greeting, question-answer). These two turns are related by conditional relevance (Schegloff 1968) that is to say that the first part requires the production of the second and the absence of the latter is noticeable and accountable. Question-anwers are very typical examples of adjacency pairs. In this paper we compare the use of gaze in question-answer sequences in three different populations: Italians, speakers of Mayan Tzeltal (Mexico) and speakers of Yeli Ndye (Russel Island, Papua New Guinea). Relying mainly on dyadic interactions and ordinary conversation we will provide a comparison of the occurrence of gaze in each turn (to compare with the claims of Goodwin and Kendon) and we will describe whether gaze has any effect on the other participant response and whether it persists also during the answer. The three languages and cultures that will be compared here belong to three different continents and have been previously described as potentially following opposite rules: for speakers of Italian and Yeli Ndye unproblematic and preferred engagement of mutual gaze while for speakers of Tzeltal strong mutual gaze avoidance. This paper tries to provide an accurate description of their gaze behavior in this specific type of sequential conversation.
  • Sicoli, M. A., Majid, A., & Levinson, S. C. (2009). The language of sound: II. In A. Majid (Ed.), Field manual volume 12 (pp. 14-19). Nijmegen: Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics. doi:10.17617/2.446294.

    Abstract

    The task is designed to elicit vocabulary for simple sounds. The primary goal is to establish how people describe sound and what resources the language provides generally for encoding this domain. More specifically: (1) whether there is dedicated vocabulary for encoding simple sound contrasts and (2) how much consistency there is within a community in descriptions. This develops on materials used in The language of sound
  • Stivers, T., Enfield, N. J., Brown, P., Englert, C., Hayashi, M., Heinemann, T., Hoymann, G., Rossano, F., De Ruiter, J. P., Yoon, K.-E., & Levinson, S. C. (2009). Universals and cultural variation in turn-taking in conversation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 106 (26), 10587-10592. doi:10.1073/pnas.0903616106.

    Abstract

    Informal verbal interaction is the core matrix for human social life. A mechanism for coordinating this basic mode of interaction is a system of turn-taking that regulates who is to speak and when. Yet relatively little is known about how this system varies across cultures. The anthropological literature reports significant cultural differences in the timing of turn-taking in ordinary conversation. We test these claims and show that in fact there are striking universals in the underlying pattern of response latency in conversation. Using a worldwide sample of 10 languages drawn from traditional indigenous communities to major world languages, we show that all of the languages tested provide clear evidence for a general avoidance of overlapping talk and a minimization of silence between conversational turns. In addition, all of the languages show the same factors explaining within-language variation in speed of response. We do, however, find differences across the languages in the average gap between turns, within a range of 250 ms from the cross-language mean. We believe that a natural sensitivity to these tempo differences leads to a subjective perception of dramatic or even fundamental differences as offered in ethnographic reports of conversational style. Our empirical evidence suggests robust human universals in this domain, where local variations are quantitative only, pointing to a single shared infrastructure for language use with likely ethological foundations.

    Supplementary material

    Stivers_2009_universals_suppl.pdf
  • Ameka, F. K., & Levinson, S. C. (2007). Introduction-The typology and semantics of locative predicates: Posturals, positionals and other beasts. Linguistics, 45(5), 847-872. doi:10.1515/LING.2007.025.

    Abstract

    This special issue is devoted to a relatively neglected topic in linguistics, namely the verbal component of locative statements. English tends, of course, to use a simple copula in utterances like “The cup is on the table”, but many languages, perhaps as many as half of the world's languages, have a set of alternate verbs, or alternate verbal affixes, which contrast in this slot. Often these are classificatory verbs of 'sitting', 'standing' and 'lying'. For this reason, perhaps, Aristotle listed position among his basic (“noncomposite”) categories.
  • Ameka, F. K., & Levinson, S. C. (Eds.). (2007). The typology and semantics of locative predication: Posturals, positionals and other beasts [Special Issue]. Linguistics, 45(5).

    Abstract

    This special issue is devoted to a relatively neglected topic in linguistics, namely the verbal component of locative statements. English tends, of course, to use a simple copula in utterances like “The cup is on the table”, but many languages, perhaps as many as half of the world's languages, have a set of alternate verbs, or alternate verbal affixes, which contrast in this slot. Often these are classificatory verbs of ‘sitting’, ‘standing’ and ‘lying’. For this reason, perhaps, Aristotle listed position among his basic (“noncomposite”) categories.
  • Boroditsky, L., Gaby, A., & Levinson, S. C. (2007). Time in space. In A. Majid (Ed.), Field manual volume 10 (pp. 59-80). Nijmegen: Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics. doi:10.17617/2.468721.

    Abstract

    This Field Manual entry has been superceded by the 2008 version: https://doi.org/10.17617/2.492932

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  • Brown, P., & Levinson, S. C. (2007). Gesichtsbedrohende Akte [reprint: Face-threatening acts, 1987]. In S. K. Herrmann, S. Kraemer, & H. Kuch (Eds.), Verletzende Worte: Die Grammatik sprachlicher Missachtung (pp. 59-88). Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag.

    Abstract

    This article is a reprint of parts of chapters 2 and 3 from Brown and Levinson (1987) discussing the concept of 'Face Threatening Acts'.
  • Dunn, M., Foley, R., Levinson, S. C., Reesink, G., & Terrill, A. (2007). Statistical reasoning in the evaluation of typological diversity in Island Melanesia. Oceanic Linguistics, 46(2), 388-403.

    Abstract

    This paper builds on a previous work in which we attempted to retrieve a phylogenetic signal using abstract structural features alone, as opposed to cognate sets, drawn from a sample of Island Melanesian languages, both Oceanic (Austronesian) and (non-Austronesian) Papuan (Science 2005[309]: 2072-75 ). Here we clarify a number of misunderstandings of this approach, referring particularly to the critique by Mark Donohue and Simon Musgrave (in this same issue of Oceanic Linguistics), in which they fail to appreciate the statistical principles underlying computational phylogenetic methods. We also present new analyses that provide stronger evidence supporting the hypotheses put forward in our original paper: a reanalysis using Bayesian phylogenetic inference demonstrates the robustness of the data and methods, and provides a substantial improvement over the parsimony method used in our earlier paper. We further demonstrate, using the technique of spatial autocorrelation, that neither proximity nor Oceanic contact can be a major determinant of the pattern of structural variation of the Papuan languages, and thus that the phylogenetic relatedness of the Papuan languages remains a serious hypothesis.
  • Enfield, N. J., Levinson, S. C., De Ruiter, J. P., & Stivers, T. (2007). Building a corpus of multimodal interaction in your field site. In A. Majid (Ed.), Field Manual Volume 10 (pp. 96-99). Nijmegen: Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics. doi:10.17617/2.468728.

    Abstract

    Research on video- and audio-recordings of spontaneous naturally-occurring conversation in English has shown that conversation is a rule-guided, practice-oriented domain that can be investigated for its underlying mechanics or structure. Systematic study could yield something like a grammar for conversation. The goal of this task is to acquire a corpus of video-data, for investigating the underlying structure(s) of interaction cross-linguistically and cross-culturally.
  • Levinson, S. C. (2007). Imi no suitei [Japanese translation of 'Presumptive meanings', 2000]. Tokyo: Kenkyusha.

    Abstract

    When we speak, we mean more than we say. In this book, the author explains some general processes that underlie presumptions in communication. This is the first extended discussion of preferred interpretation in language understanding, integrating much of the best research in linguistic pragmatics from the last two decades. Levinson outlines a theory of presumptive meanings, or preferred interpretations, governing the use of language, building on the idea of implicature developed by the philosopher H. P. Grice. Some of the indirect information carried by speech is presumed by default because it is carried by general principles, rather than inferred from specific assumptions about intention and context. Levinson examines this class of general pragmatic inferences in detail, showing how they apply to a wide range of linguistic constructions. This approach has radical consequences for how we think about language and communication.
  • Levinson, S. C. (2007). Optimizing person reference - perspectives from usage on Rossel Island. In N. Enfield, & T. Stivers (Eds.), Person reference in interaction: Linguistic, cultural, and social perspectives (pp. 29-72). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Abstract

    This chapter explicates the requirement in person–reference for balancing demands for recognition, minimalization, explicitness and indirection. This is illustrated with reference to data from repair of failures of person–reference within a particular linguistic/cultural context, namely casual interaction among Rossel Islanders. Rossel Island (PNG) offers a ‘natural experiment’ for studying aspects of person reference, because of a number of special properties: 1. It is a closed universe of 4000 souls, sharing one kinship network, so in principle anyone could be recognizable from a reference. As a result no (complex) descriptions (cf. ‘ the author of Waverly’) are employed. 2. Names, however, are never uniquely referring, since they are drawn from a fixed pool. They are only used for about 25% of initial references, another 25% of initial references being done by kinship triangulation (‘that man’s father–in–law’). Nearly 50% of initial references are semantically underspecified or vague (e.g. ‘that girl’). 3. There are systematic motivations for oblique reference, e.g. kinship–based taboos and other constraints, which partly account for the underspecified references. The ‘natural experiment’ thus reveals some gneral lessons about how person–reference requires optimizing multiple conflicting constraints. Comparison with Sacks and Schegloff’s (1979) treatment of English person reference suggests a way to tease apart the universal and the culturally–particular.
  • Levinson, S. C. (2007). Pragmática [Portugese translation of 'Pragmatics', 1983]. Sao Paulo: Martins Fontes Editora.

    Abstract

    The purpose of this book is to provide some indication of the scope of linguistic pragmatics. First the historical origin of the term pragmatics will be briefly summarized, in order to indicate some usages of the term that are divergent from the usage in this book. We will review some definitions of the field, which, while being less than fully statisfactory, will at least serve to indicate the rough scope of linguistic pragmatics. Thirdly, some reasons for the current interest in the field will be explained, while a final section illustrates some basic kinds of pragmatic phenomena. In passing, some analytical notions that are useful background will be introduced.
  • Levinson, S. C., Majid, A., & Enfield, N. J. (2007). Language of perception: The view from language and culture. In A. Majid (Ed.), Field Manual Volume 10 (pp. 10-21). Nijmegen: Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics. doi:10.17617/2.468738.
  • Levinson, S. C. (2007). Cut and break verbs in Yélî Dnye, the Papuan language of Rossel Island. Cognitive Linguistics, 18(2), 207-218. doi:10.1515/COG.2007.009.

    Abstract

    The paper explores verbs of cutting and breaking (C&B, hereafter) in Yeli Dnye, the Papuan language of Rossel Island. The Yeli Dnye verbs covering the C&B domain do not divide it in the expected way, with verbs focusing on special instruments and manners of action on the one hand, and verbs focusing on the resultant state on the other. Instead, just three transitive verbs and their intransitive counterparts cover most of the domain, and they are all based on 'exotic' distinctions in mode of severance[--]coherent severance with the grain vs. against the grain, and incoherent severance (regardless of grain).
  • Levinson, S. C., Senft, G., & Majid, A. (2007). Emotion categories in language and thought. In A. Majid (Ed.), Field Manual Volume 10 (pp. 46-52). Nijmegen: Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics. doi:10.17617/2.492892.

    Supplementary material

    French_emotion_questionnaire.pdf
  • Levinson, S. C., & Majid, A. (2007). The language of sound. In A. Majid (Ed.), Field Manual Volume 10 (pp. 29-31). Nijmegen: Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics. doi:10.17617/2.468735.
  • Levinson, S. C., & Majid, A. (2007). The language of vision II: Shape. In A. Majid (Ed.), Field Manual Volume 10 (pp. 26-28). Nijmegen: Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics. doi:10.17617/2.468732.
  • Majid, A., & Levinson, S. C. (2007). Language of perception: Overview of field tasks. In A. Majid (Ed.), Field Manual Volume 10 (pp. 8-9). Nijmegen: Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics. doi:10.17617/2.492898.
  • Majid, A., Senft, G., & Levinson, S. C. (2007). The language of olfaction. In A. Majid (Ed.), Field Manual Volume 10 (pp. 36-41). Nijmegen: Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics. doi:10.17617/2.492910.
  • Majid, A., Senft, G., & Levinson, S. C. (2007). The language of touch. In A. Majid (Ed.), Field Manual Volume 10 (pp. 32-35). Nijmegen: Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics. doi:10.17617/2.492907.
  • Majid, A., & Levinson, S. C. (2007). The language of vision I: colour. In A. Majid (Ed.), Field Manual Volume 10 (pp. 22-25). Nijmegen: Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics. doi:10.17617/2.492901.
  • Senft, G., Majid, A., & Levinson, S. C. (2007). The language of taste. In A. Majid (Ed.), Field Manual Volume 10 (pp. 42-45). Nijmegen: Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics. doi:10.17617/2.492913.
  • Stivers, T., Enfield, N. J., & Levinson, S. C. (2007). Person reference in interaction. In N. J. Enfield, & T. Stivers (Eds.), Person reference in interaction: Linguistic, cultural, and social perspectives (pp. 1-20). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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