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Seminar: 2/3 - Len Talmy

11:00 to 12:30 PM      at:  

Tolman Hall, 5101
Linguistics Department and Center for Cognitive Science
University at Buffalo, State University of New York
"The Attention System of Language -- Work in Progress"

This talk reports on work in progress to outline the fundamental attentional system of language. In a speech situation, a hearer may attend to the linguistic expression produced by a speaker, to the conceptual content represented by that expression, and to the context at hand. But not all of this material appears uniformly in the foreground of the hearer's attention. Rather, various portions or aspects of the expression, content, and context have different degrees of salience. Such differences are only partly due to any intrinsically greater interest of certain elements over others. More fundamentally, language has an extensive system that assigns different degrees of salience to the parts of an expression or of its reference or of the context. In terms of the speech participants, the speaker employs this system in formulating an expression; the hearer, largely on the basis of such formulations, allocates her attention in a particular way over the material of these domains. This attentional system includes some fifty basic factors, the "building blocks" of the system. Each factor involves a particular linguistic mechanism that increases or decreases attention on a certain type of linguistic entity. Although able to act alone, the basic factors also regularly combine and interact to produce further attentional effects. This attentional system shows commonalities and differences across individual languages, across modalities (spoken vs. signed language), and apparently across cognitive systems (e.g., between language and visual perception). This research on attention in language using the methodologies of linguistics joins research involving other areas and methods toward an overall understanding of attention in cognition.