From Visual Perception to Verbal Representation
Language-specific Effects in the Conceptualization of Events
The relationship between language and cognition has been a matter of philosophical and linguistic debate ever since ancient times. Language can be understood in this context in a general sense – in contrast to non-verbal, pictorial forms, for instance, or in the sense of a specific linguistic system. Until quite recently the discussion has been characterized by a general absence of scientific methodology and a resultant tendency towards speculation. In recent years, however, research on this fundamental question has evolved with the application of methods developed in empirical linguistics, psychology, and neuroscience, providing initial insight into the interrelation between language and cognition with regard to the effect of specific linguistic forms and functions on processes of conceptualization. The field is now concerned with the nature of concepts and processes in language, in non-linguistic cognition, and how they interact. The way we talk about entities and events, for instance, leads us to direct more or less attention to different aspects of the phenomenon in question, since grammaticalised notions, which differ crosslinguistically, facilitate communication of the different aspects profiled in this way. In the context of these questions my research concerns the analysis of language-specific patterns of event cognition. On the basis of an extensive multilingual corpus of event descriptions (including bilinguals and second language speakers) I plan to design experiments with the aim of testing processes of conceptualization independent of verbalization. To this end patterns and chronometric properties of visual attention, as well as memory performance, will be studied, thereby placing special focus on spatial and temporal characteristics of events.
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