Wednesday, March 12, 2008


Sorry for not having posted anything in such a long time, but currently I’m still home, without access to the internet, and working on my two term papers. The first, drawing on the issue of perspecitivy I’ve outlined here before, is nearly finished, the second I’ve nearly begun with.

Since both Themes fit into the general framework of inquiries into the nature and evolution of human perspectival cognition, I’ll try to give short summaries of these projects.

My first term paper, is on the cognitive preconditions/foundations of linguistic perspectivity (As I am writing it in German, the original title is “Die kognitiven Voraussetzungen der sprachlichen Perspektivität”) and tries to integrate various strands of research into the framework of Wilhem Köller’s systemic space and Karl Bühler’s notion of linguistic communication establishing and taking place in a “coordinate system of subjective orientation.”

Due to objections of my professor, my paper is mainly focussed on how these preconditions manifest themselves and are expressed in linguistic utterances, which forced me to discard most of the really cool experiments on the pragmatic and perspectival development of pre-verbal infants done by Michael Tomasello and his colleagues, as they seem to belong to the realm of psychology, not linguistics. But here in a nutshell, are the key ideas of my paper:

Language allows us to establish joint attentional frames and shared spaces of meaning. In Discourse we create mutual mental representations of discourse referents, and establish a basic perspective on states of events. These mental representations are shared ‘systemic spaces’ (Köller 2004), which overlap to such a degree that we can communicate and interact (relatively) successfully. This common level of a basic understanding of a state of events relies in the existence of preconditional cognitive systems, such as a shared ontology of how thing work (Metzinger & Gallese 2003), our knowledge of linguistic structures and words, our conceptual knowledge about the world (Barsalou 1999), our perceptual knowledge (Zwaan & Madden 2006), our pragmatic knowledge of how the principles underlying and guiding linguistic and non-linguistic interaction, our knowledge of emotional states as well as our ability to categorize objects and events based on pattern recognition (cf. Scherner 1994).

The fact that our “minds have bodies that are situated in environments” (Poirier et al. 2005: 741) is another preconditional a priori of all linguistic interactions. It defines our point-of-view and demarcates what we can and cannot perceive (Köller 2004: 133).

Embodiment thus not only also plays a crucial part in how we see and conceptualize the world (Gibbs et al. 2004: 1192), but also in how we talk about it (e.g. Lakoff & Johnson 1980).

Each written or spoken text, for example, always refers back to its Origin, the Origo-Point (also called here-now-I-Origo, due to the deictic nature of these words, which are directly linked to the speaker and the communicate situation.) (Bühler 1934).

Language and Cognition are thus essentially of a perspectival nature.

The ability to live in the ‘we-mode’ and establish a shared ‘we-perspective’, or a ‘shared point of view’ on things (Tuomela 2007), is the foundation of all cultures and one of the basic things that make us human (Mead 1934, Tomasello et al. 2005).

This view is supported by this awesomely cool data:

Mental and communication verbs belong to the ten most frequent verbs in:

  • English (say / know, think, want; Biber et al. 1999: 375)
  • Early Modern English (say, tell / know, think; Nevalainen 2006: 48)
  • Middle-English and Probably Old English (say / know, see, think; Lieberman et al. 2007: 714f.).
  • German (sagen (=say) / wollen (=want), wissen (=know), müssen (=to have to); Jones & Tschirner (2006: 10-14).
  • and Middle-High German (sagen (=say), sprechen(=speak) / mügen (=want/is able to), wellen (=want); Singer 2001: 19-30)

The mental predicates “think”, “know”, “want”, “feel”, “see”, “hear” belong to the lexicon of every known culture (Goddard 2006: 4).

In their Examination 95 Bantu languages 65 indo-European languages and 330 Austronesian languages, Atkinson et al. (2008) found that the words for “see”, “hear”, “know”, “think”, and “say” belong to the basic cognates which, as frequently used anthropological constants, are much more resistant to historical change than other words (see also Pagel et al. 2007: 719)

If we want to look at the subsystems, or distinct qualities of cognitive perspectivity, which as a whole allows us to consider overlapping, and often inconsistent frames of reference and ways of looking at a situation (Perner et al. 2003, Bischof-Köhler 2000), we can, for example, make out the following: Shared Intentionality (Tomasello et al. 2005), Theory of Mind (Premack & Woodruff 1978), and visual as well as conceptual perspective taking.

I will write about these a bit more when I find the time (which hopefully, will be soon)


Barsalou, Lawrence W. (1999): Perceptual Symbol Systems. In: Behavioral and Brain Sciences 22.4, 577-609

Biber, Douglas, Stig Johansson, Geoffrey Leech, Susan Conrad and Edward Finegan (1999): Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English. London: Longman.

Bischof-Köhler, Doris (2000): Kinder auf Zeitreise: Theory of Mind, Zeitverständnis und Handlungsorganisation. Bern [u.a].: Hans Huber.

Bühler, Karl. 1934. Sprachtheorie. Die Darstellungsfunktion der Sprache. Jena: Gustav Fischer

Goddard, Cliff (2006): Ethnopragmatics: A New Paradigm. In: Cliff Goddard (Hg.): Ethnopragmatics: Understanding Discourse in Cultural Context. Berlin et al.: Mouton de Gruyter, 1-30.

Jones, Randall L. und Erwin Tschirner (2006): A Frequency Dictionary of German: Core

Vocabulary for Learners. Oxon, New York: Routledge. (Routledge Frequency Dictionaries)

Köller, Wilhelm (2004): Perspektivität und Sprache. Zur Struktur von Objektivierungsformen in Bildern, im Denken und in der Sprache. Berlin; New York: de Gruyter.

Lakoff, George, and Mark Johnson 1980. Metaphors we live by. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Nevalainen, Terttu (2006): An Introduction to Early Modern English. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Pagel, Mark Quentin D. Atkinson und Andrew Meade (2007): Frequency of Word-use Predicts Rates of Lexical Evolution Throughout Indo-European History. In: Nature 449, 717-720.

Perner, Josef, Johannes L. Brandl und Alan Garnham (2003): What is a Perspective Problem? Developmental Issues in Understanding Belief and Dual Identity. In: Facta Philosophica 5, 355–378.

Poirier, Pierre, Benoit Hardy-Vallée and Jean-Frédéric Depasquale (2005): Embodied Categorization. In: Henri Cohen und Claire Lefebvre (Hgg.): Handbook of Categorization in Cognitive Science. Amsterdam: Elsevier, 739-765.

Premack, David und Guy Woodruff (1978): Does the Chimpanzee have a Theory of Mind? In: Behavioral and Bran Sciences 1: 515-526.

Scherner, Maximilian (1994): Textverstehen als „Spurenlesen“ – Zur Texttheoretischen Tragweite dieser Metapher. In: Peter Canisius, Clemens-Peter Herbermann, Gerhard Tschauder (Hgg.): Text und Grammatik: Festschrift für Roland Harweg zum 60. Geburtstag. Bochum: Brockmeyer, 317-340.

Singer, Johannes (2001): Mittelhochdeutscher Grundwortschatz. 3. völlig neu bearbeitete und erweiterte Auflage Paderborn u.a.: Ferdinand Schöningh. (UTB 2253)

Tomasello, Michael Malinda Carpenter, Josep Call, Tanya Behne, und Henrike Moll (2005a): Understanding and Sharing Intentions: The Origins of Cultural Cognition. In: Behavioral and Brain Sciences 28:5, 675–691

Tuomela, Raimo (2007): The Philosophy of Sociality: From A Shared Point of View. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Zwaan, Rolf A. und Carol J. Madden (2006): Embodied Sentence Comprehension. In: Diane Pecher Rolf A. Zwaan (Hgg), The Grounding of Cognition: The Role of Perception and Action in Memory, Language, and Thinking. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press,

No comments: