Ling J / Cog B: How cognitive systems communicate with each other and with the real world (advanced!)

Tobias Scheer (CNRS, Université Côte d'Azur)

The class discusses how different components of the cognitive system work, and how they communicate with other such components, as well as with the outside world (items that exist beyond the skin). The focus lies on language in general and phonology in particular, since there are explicit theories about their workings and interaction (which is less the case elsewhere).

The class first provides an introduction to modularity, i.e. the very idea that the mind does not carry out all-purpose computation, but rather computation that is specific to a number of domains (audition, vision, language, numbers etc.). Thus the items computed by audition are not the same as the ones that are processed by, say, syntax.

After a brief survey of the kind of distinct computational systems (modules) that occur and the way they may be identified, intermodular communication is discussed: how do different systems talk to each other? The communication between language-internal systems (syntax, phonology, phonetics) is reasonably well understood and taken as a starting point to also inquire on how the skin barrier is crossed, either way:

• how do skin-external items become cognitive categories, e.g. how is time or light (skin-external) transformed into tense (cognitive categories)?
• What is the relationship between both (what properties of time and light, if any, are carried into tense / color)?
• How are cognitive categories transformed into skin-external items (e.g. an idea that a speaker wants to express into waves that come out of the mouth)?
• Can any real world property (i.e. things that exist beyond the skin) become a cognitive or more specifically a linguistic category?
• Real word properties define a real-world space limited by physiological properties of the human perceptual system: hearing range (dogs can hear Hertz values than humans), color (visible to the human eye = 380-750 nm), etc. How do cognitive categories populate this non-cognitive space? Dispersion (maximal distance of categories within this space) appears to be the rule.

It is argued that communication both within the cognitive system (among modules) and between the cognitive system and the skin-external world are list-based, i.e. involve look-up tables where vocabulary items of the communicating systems are related, e.g. (skin-external) 450-480 nanometers ↔ (cognitive category).These workings are illustrated with a number of examples, and consequences are discussed, namely the fact that the relationship of items that are related in a look-up table is arbitrary. That is, there is no reason why [past 3 rd person singular] (syntax) comes out as -ed in English (he lived), rather than as, say, ke or pa. Just like there is no reason why the phoneme /r/ (phonology) is related to the pronunciation [r] (phonetics) in Spanish (but to [χ,ʁ] in French). Just like there is no reason why the span of 450-580 nm is related to "blue" in languages and cultures other than Western, it may be related to "yellow" or "red".

Background in phonology and/or linguistic theory required