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An embodied model of clause syntax

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Tamara Polajnar.

Embodied models of language posit that the human language faculty somehow recruits the sensory and/or motor mechanisms by which we interact with the physical world. This claim is normally made in the field of lexical semantics – for instance in proposals that the meanings of action verbs are represented by action representations in the motor system. In my talk, I’ll propose a version of the claim in the domain of syntax: I will argue that the syntactic structure of a sentence reporting a concrete episode in the world can be interpreted – at least in part – as a description of the sensorimotor processes through which this episode was perceived.

The talk will summarise the argument I made in a recent book (Sensorimotor Cognition and Natural Language Syntax, MIT Press 2012). I will focus on a single concrete episode, in which a man grasps a cup. I’ll first introduce a model of the sensorimotor processes through which this episode is perceived, derived from recent research in neuroscience. Then I’ll introduce a model of the syntax of transitive sentences like ‘The man grabbed a cup’, and its equivalents in other languages, drawing on a Minimalist notion of Logical Form (LF). Then I’ll argue that there are interesting structural similarities between these independently-developed models, which run deep enough to support the claim that LF structures encode aspects of sensorimotor processing.

This talk is part of the NLIP Seminar Series series.

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