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Invited Seminar : Perception of structure from language and world

John Trueswell (Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania) will be a visiting scholar here at the Université Paris Cité from May 2 until June 30th.

He will be giving an in person seminar :

Friday, May 12th, 2023


Amphithéâtre Richelieu

La Sorbonne

17 rue de La Sorbonne

75005 Paris

In order to attend please put your name in the list here: before May 8th 2023

The talk is entitled

Word learning in honor of Lila Gleitman: Perception of structure from language and world.

It is tempting to conclude that children learn the meanings of words by observing their circumstances of use (e.g., observing that the word “dog” often co-occurs with dog-sightings). If this is the case though, how do children ever learn the vast majority of the words that they know? Consider most of the words in this abstract, many of which a 3-year-old produces and understands: like “what”, “not”, “language”, “do”, “think”, “learn.” Can these words be learned by observation of their circumstances of use? There are no what-sightings that go with “what”, and no not-sightings that go with “not”; thinking-sightings often look like sleeping-sightings and sitting-sightings. How do children go about learning these “hard words” despite no explicit instruction? I will present research, some of which was done with my longtime collaborator Lila Gleitman, that is designed to answer these questions. I’ll focus on the unexpected role that word-to-world pairings nevertheless play in the learning of hard words. I’ll propose a framework for word-to-world mapping in which perception of the referent world itself offers us significant structure, and the syntactic structure we gather from the language is connected to these representations. This connection, and the structural representations on both sides of the word-to-world coin, allow us to see what we shouldn’t be able to see, and hear what we shouldn’t be able to hear. I’ll offer experimental evidence that our perception of the world includes rapid extraction of event structure, and hypothesize that this allows access to abstract relational meaning even in young children. These representations play an important role in understanding how situational contexts permit children to learn even the most abstract of terms, such as symmetrical predicates (e.g., the meaning of “equal”) and truth-functional negation (e.g., the meaning of “not”).

If you are interested in scheduling a meeting with John during his visit, please put your name here. Do not hesitate to spread the word about this talk and send the flyer to all your students and colleagues who might be interested to attend !

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