Cafe Sci: Human Language

TUE, SEP 15, 2015 (00:00)

Human languages have many properties that seem surprising from the perspective of communication: they are ambiguous, redundant, and apparently arbitrary. Richard Futrell, a PhD student in Cognitive Science at MIT, will discuss the remarkable variations among languages: some languages require you to mark gender all the time; in other languages never. In some languages you can rearrange words in whatever order you like, whereas in others, such as English, you can’t.

Surprisingly, many of the universal properties of languages and the range of arrangements in particular languages can be predicted by assuming that languages are efficient and robust communication systems. Futrell explains how this recent line of research works, and what it can tell us about language and the human mind.

+ BIO: Richard Futrell

Richard is interested (so far) in how the pressure of managing information transfer between speakers shapes the structure of natural language(s). In pursuit of that goal, he likes to make computational models and analyze naturalistic data in linguistic corpora. Phenomena he's worked on so far include grammatical gender and noun classifier systems, language change and grammaticalization, word order variation, typological generalizations such as the Accessibility Hierarchy, and discourse structure. His favorite languages are Mandarin, German, and Hungarian.

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