Stephen C. Levinson

Publications

Displaying 1 - 34 of 34
  • 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., 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.
  • 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.
  • 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., 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.
  • 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). 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. (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.
  • 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.*
  • 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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