Linguistics Department

Colloquium - Stephen Wechsler (UT Austin)

Emergent Grammar and Boundless Innovation

Mon, November 11, 2019 | RLP 1.302B

3:00 PM - 5:00 PM

The lexicon of a human language presents to us a dazzling display of word meanings sampled from the apparently infinite potential products of the human imagination. Meanwhile, the study of clausal syntax has revealed rather strong patterns of syntax-semantics correspondence, both within and across languages, leading to the common view that some sort of cognitive universals, which are either assumed to be innate or left unexplained, must underlie the projection of structured word meanings into the syntax.

In this talk I will propose that this apparent universal conceptual structuring is an illusion. As it turns out, the grammatical patterns it was adduced to explain are independently predicted to emerge endogenously, as a result of certain properties of dynamical systems. Instead of assuming innate constraints, one need only assume that language innovators, while enjoying complete freedom to invent new word meanings without constraints, also tend to behave rationally when it comes to choosing grammatical forms to express those new meanings.

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  • Department of Linguistics

    University of Texas at Austin
    305 E. 23rd Street STOP B5100
    Robert L. Patton Hall (RLP) 4.304
    Austin, TX 78712