The Ideas of Chomsky – Interview fra BBC

Jeg har lige fundet et længere interview med Noam Chomsky som er blevet sendt på BBC en gang i 70’erne eller 80’erne. Det er selvfølgelig onde løgne alt, hvad han siger 😉 , men det er nu alligevel ganske interessant at høre Chomsky forsøge at gøre sine håbløst komplekse teorier forståelige for den almindelige Brite.
Det er 5 forskellige videoer, som jeg har sat sammen til én afspilningsliste så I bare kan klikke videre. Værsågod!

Kognition og korttricks

Dette er et psykologisk eksperiment, som viser hvor meget der kan gå vores næser forbi – eller sagt lidt mere sagligt: illustrerer vores kognitive systems begrænsninger.

Nu er dette ikke et sprogligt eksperiment, men mon ikke det kognitive system fungerer på samme måde i forbindelse med kommunikation? Hvor mange skift lagde du mærke til?

Lær lingvistik på 5 minutter

The Five Minute LinguistJeg er lige faldet over en lingvistisk radioserie lavet af den amerikanske lingvist Rick Rickerson, som kalder sig The Five Minute Linguist. Radioserien som hedder Talkin’ about Talk, er lavet i anledning af, at den amerikanske kongres udnævnte 2005 til at være Sprogenes År i Amerika. Serien er lavet i samarbejde med et initiativ, som ligner noget der ligger os meget nært på Afdeling for Lingvistik og Finsk – nemlig The National Museum of Languages.

Serien består af 52 indslag à 5 minutter, der hvert behandler et spørgsmål, som “almindelige” mennesker kunne finde på at stille os lingvister. Spørgsmålene omfatter bl.a.:

Denne komplette oversigt over programmerne kan findes her, hvor man også kan downloade hvert enkelt program. Hvis du ikke har lyst til at sidde og klikke på links i en evighed, som jeg har gjort, kan du også hente den samlede serie via Bittorrent.

Nu glæder jeg mig i hvert fald til at fylde mp3-afspilleren med lingvistik!

A diplomatic bridge between universalism and relativism

Currently there’s a conference called Language in Cognition – Cognition in Language going on here in Århus and I had the privilege to hear Paul Kay and Terry Regier speak about the laterelization of categorical perception. In itself a topic that has had my interest for a couple of years now, but the talk Kay and Regier gave was nothing but amazing. I was, at more than one point, tempted to jump up and yell “woohoo!” and start dancing a little happy celebratory dance.

The main point was, of course, about categorical perception, but the talk also delivered a very diplomatic and compelling point about the whole universalist/relativist discussion, that’s been going on ever since the 1950’s or so, namely that both may co-exist – even peacefully – and be perfectly compatible. In itself not a new idea, but Regier’s points about optimal partitioning of the color space, which seems to be near-universal, and the possibility for language specific deviations were really exciting and they definitely support the claim that there’s no ultimate universal or relativist truth within the domain of categorical perception.

Kay’s points about lateralization of categorical perception seem to support my feeling on the subject, namely that if you ask people to categorize something, they’ll do it by the means readily available. So when language already has color categories set up, why not use them when asked to categorize colors? Kay’s data seems to support this idea, which I’m absolutely thrilled about, since until recently I’ve had close to nothing to back up my feeling, but since Mr. Color Categorization himself seems to be on my side, I haven’t got the slightest reason to worry.

Should you want to check out Kay and Regier’s claims, read:

  • Regier, T., Kay, P. & Khetarpal, N. (2007), Color naming reflects optimal partitions of color space, PNAS 2007 104: 1436–1441 (PDF)
  • Gilbert, A.L., Regier, T., Kay, P. & Ivry, R.B. (2006), Whorf hypethesis is supported in the right visual field but not the left, PNAS 2006 103: 489–494 (PDF)

Assumptions in the domain of color categorization

Some years back when I read Paul Kay and Willett Kempton’s article What is the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis[1] and they presented the evidence for the naming strategy, which is what they dubbed the phenomenon that people categorize by linguistic criteria instead of physiological criteria in a specific task, one thing hit me.

Let me start by putting this in context. Kay and Kempton were studying 5 native English speakers and 4 native Tarahumara speakers, in itself not exactly a mind-blowing number of subjects, and the subjects were to look at three Munsell color chips of which they were to “pick the odd one out”. These chips would all be close to the linguistic blue-green boundary of English and be arranged such that if chips A and B would be called green in English, chip C would be called blue, but A and C could easily be closest in terms of wavelength while still on each side of the lexical blue-green boundary of English. In Tarahumara, however, there’s no lexical distinction between blue and green. They use one word to cover the entire blue-green spectrum.

What Kay & Kempton found was that the Tarahumara speakers appeared to discriminate in terms of wavelength — i.e. they would pick the physiological “odd one” regardless of what an English speaker would name the color. The English speakers would pick the “odd one” by using the naming strategy — i.e. if two chips would be called blue, then the odd one would be the green one.

While I do think this experiment is very interesting, and definitely one of the better (and simpler) to be caried out in the name of categorization, there’s still one thing that bothers me. How can we be sure that English speakers aren’t simply choosing a logical way to discriminate? Remember, they’re asked to “pick the odd one out”, which necesarrily means that there must be an odd one and language seems to be a pretty logical — and obvious — choice in this situation. What would happen if they were asked to “pick the odd one out” of, say, an F-14 fighter, a can of beans and an elm tree? I’m pretty sure the subjects would find some way to do it. Maybe not uniformly, but they’d definitely be able to.

Now, a later study by Gilbert et al.[2] (involving Kay himself), has shown that the naming strategy in fact primarilly occurs when the “odd one” is in the right visual field, but not the left. This supports a Whorfian interpretation when things are processed in the left hemisphere, but won’t that be exactly where the processing is taking place if you conduct the experiment as Kay & Kempton did back in 1984?

Maybe someone has already raised these issues, maybe they’re already dealt with or maybe “zere iz no zpöön” and I’m just looking at this wrong. Either way, I urge anyone with a little knowledge of this to comment and maybe drop a reference so I may be enlightened.

[1]: Kay, P. & Kempton, W. (1984), What is the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, American Anthropologist 86:65–79
[2]: Gilbert, A.L. et al. (2006), Whorf hypothesis is supported in the right visual field but not the left. PNAS 2006 103:489-494

[Note: In spite of the heated debate on Danish language policy, I’m choosing to publish this in English in the hope that it’ll reach a larger amount of readers, thus contributing further to the development of linguistics as a science than it would if published in Danish.]

The mind is a treacherous device

A while back in my psycolinguistics class, we were shown a video, that I thought was rather interesting. It’s a video that plays a trick on the mind.

If you don’t want to ruin it for yourself, follow these guidelines:

  • First time you watch the video, focus on counting the number of times the members of the white team catch their ball. It”s very important that you count the right number.
  • then watch the video again without counting the catches made by the white team

The video is contained in a Java applet and it will only play if you have Java installed on your machine (and active in your browser). The applet is fairly large (7MB) so it may take a while to load.