Stephen C. Levinson

Publications

Displaying 1 - 30 of 30
  • 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., & 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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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