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Seminar: 11/19 - Carol Fowler, Haskins Laboratories

11:00 to 12:30 PM      at:  5101 Tolman Hall

A common currency for public language use

Humans are biologically adapted not just for language itself, but for spoken language. Despite the fact that signed languages appear to have all of the communicative power of spoken languages, spoken languages are universal as the primary linguistic communication form across human cultures. That languages evolved to be spoken implies that language itself should be adapted to the successful exchange of language forms between talkers and listeners. Yet, by most accounts, language forms (word forms, consonants, vowels), the very means that languages provide to make linguistic messages public, are abstractions in the mind that, thanks to coarticulation in speech, do not make public appearances unscathed. This has led to an implication that communication by spoken language depends on “mind-to-mind” transmission—transmission of language forms that exist only in the speaker and hearer’s mind. I summarize research conducted with the goal in mind of developing a different conception of language forms as they are known, produced and perceived. In that conceptualization, language forms are public actions of the vocal tract that coarticulation leaves intact. This enables forms themselves to cause the structure in acoustic signals that serves as perceivers’ primary information for what was said. I review the theoretical approach and some of the research on phonological competence, speech production and perception that provide supporting evidence.