Guaranteed to Heighten Proprioception: Boston’s More Than A Feeling remixed at the end of the world

In a time when genres like Dub Step (which I adore, by the way) are bringing chaotic and palpable cut & paste erraticism to soundscape, we all need a centering force to be our calming guide.

Enter: StPaulAtTheEndOfTheWolrd, a saint who has recently set out to reclaim your pre-Google attention span.

Like I tweeted in January, StPaulAtTheEndOfTheWorld’s “More Than More Than A Feeling” is the closest experience you can have to floating inside a sensory deprivation tank.  It is ethereal, other-worldly, and downright uplifting to weary souls.  If you are in the middle of comps, mid-terms, candidacy examinations, defenses, or jumping through any other academic hoop – I implore you: take 20 minutes out of your day to meditate on this solid tune - it will make you into a mindful academic with concentration skills unmatched by timid rivals.

More Than More Than a Feeling has hit the SoundCloud charts this week being played almost 170k times in the past 3 days, thanks to an early blog post by Dangerous Minds which scored him an almost 25K overnight boost, and it has been climbing.  I can’t wait to see how far he goes (I heard there is a concept album in the works).

Tagged , , , , , ,

Multifaceted Living

On the sliding scale of time that gradiently builds and ebbs and recedes I am perpetually being re-context-ed and being iteratively re-inserted into particular frames of reference and spheres of existence.  I am simultaneously (at this point in time) (in no particular order) physically framed: a mortal, a human, and a male; overlapping-ly framed: a man, a child, a son, a husband, a friend, an ex-boyfriend, an occasional ass, but most of the time decent; functionally framed:an employee, a husband (again), a neighbor, a citizen, a representative, a cook, a linguist, and a discourse analyst; and characteristically framed: creative, a reader, obstinate, sour-faced when I am actually quite contented and happy, a driven individual, annoying, entertaining, friendly, unconcerned with things some people think I ought to be concerned about, temperate, calm, chaotic, paradoxical, slimy, ambiguous, wrong, right, and indifferent.

As individuals we have many types of roles and expectations.

These roles and expectations have a place in community.

Let’s assume that individuality exists because there is community.  Let’s agree that community on a macro-level means relationship.  Community defines the application of our roles, defines the way that we relate to the community at large.  Throughout life we have the option to naturally accept or naturally decline participation in any given role.

Our descriptive and identifying labels probably exists because of some micro-role played out in some micro-plot-line of thought or action or interaction or relation.

For me, like any other human, each particular facet of my being carries a whole set of relationships and contexts that also need to be understood if I am to be understood in full.  For instance, being a husband suggests a living spouse, which at one point meant a new marriage, which meant in-laws, which meant new grandparents, most likely new siblings, and new aunts and uncles.  If the actual relationships were not so big of a factor in defining that new portion of my identity, then certainly, the way in which those relatives perceived me in context of how they perceived my spouse certainly carried some sort of value and created expectations for me (including the way I was to interact as a new and extended member of the family).  Furthermore, if family isn’t enough, there were new friends with whom I also entered into relationship, including their sets of expectations, ad nausea.  And this is only the external relations in marriage – I have left aside any relations and expectations that I shared with my spouse.

What about the rest of the roles?  It starts getting crazy when you try to make sense of it all.

In addition to holding a variety of roles I also have sets of attributes that are either activated or deactivated depending on which role I am satisfying.  These attributes are features that define and differentiate so that you can determine who I am and what I am supposed to be doing and why, and how, and when, and where.  I am tour staff, I am the person who knows how to get to Pittsburgh, I am short so I am not the person to change the lightbulb, I am quick so I am the person to run down the street and catch the delivery driver because he forgot a package, I am whatever I am, in terms of attributes, in terms of adjectives.

This is not compartmentalizing; this is maximizing self-awareness to harness it as a tool to leverage the options placed before me.  This reminds me of that Aboriginal saying:  The more you know the less you need.  I know myself.  If we do not know our capabilities, our roles, our nature, then we cannot expect to market those skills to the people who find them valuable in employees, in dates, in spouses, in friends, it voters, et cetera.  Although I am not an objectivist, Ayn Rand tells us that absolutely the writer must know the essentials if they are to write anything of value at all.

You as a multi-hat wearing individual absolutely must know your essence if you are to accomplish anything at all.

As we grow older and accumulate hats we learn that roles do the things they are able to do because of gained experience and knowledge.  Time changes student into teacher, child into adult.  But some roles can overlap and occur simultaneously, such as child, student, pitcher, class clown, et cetera.  Holding a particular role does not necessarily preclude an individual from holding other particular roles.  It may preclude, but it does not necessarily preclude.

Roles overlap and occur simultaneously, some precede, some follow, some preclude at particular times, and others are instances of roles filled immaturely in more mature ways; iterations of roles that continue perpetually until our bones petrify, (skeleton is a meronym of body…that means skeleton is a part of body), or roles that we chose to turn on and off, but irrespective of the time slots that the roles fill they occur between the womb and the tomb, riga tiga tum tum.

I am not your friend until you meet me.

Without being my friend, you can still know the intimate fact based on my usage of “womb” and “tomb” with that nonsensical four word sequence in the prior paragraph that I am culturally literate enough in some particular culture to be able to reference West Side Story.

And we all know so much.

We can’t be satisfied to know that we have an identity or a personality, or that we belong to any particular culture or collection of cultures.  We need to want to know what to do with that knowledge.  We need something more here.  But we operate on a daily basis with the awareness that we need to know our materials and our tools in order to do anything productively creative with our skills and resources.  Accordingly, we need to investigate the nature of our identities, how our identities converge to belong to cultures, how those cultural memberships alter our identities, and then how to use that knowledge in our chaotically complex lives; we need to practice multifaceted learning for this multifaceted living.

I was featured in a financial blog giving insight into financial crisis language

Last week I was featured in a column on the investment blog with some comments about financial crisis language like “crash” and “stagflation”.

Check out the feature here.

Like I have said before, linguistics has a lot to offer to other disciplines, hopefully we can continue to work our way into those disciplines and continue to create market value for our skill sets.  It just takes people realizing that cognition and language can be systematically applied to real world situations; which for linguists is already a no-brainer.

Tagged , , , , ,

Motion Imagery & The Glitch Mob

I love this image from the cover of The Glitch Mob’s We Can Make the World Stop:

People occasionally describe winding canyons as if they were snakes, and this image makes that language explicit by showing a snake winding through the canyon.  We know that canyons do not wind (at least, not in the sense that the language implies), usually it is the river that created the canyon that did the winding as it formed the canyon over time.  But, when this information gets applied to the canyon we can say that this is fictive motion, the canyon is fictively moving, fictively winding.

When The Glitch Mob translate this idea into the clear visual imagery of this cover art, it forces the obvious in a way that makes it compelling to look at.  I think this is because it is a conceptual blend in which there is an input space of CANYON and another input space of SNAKE.  The blended space is the scene of the snake body in the canyon.  Usually in a conceptual blend some of the structure from the input spaces gets left out through the process of compression, but in this case, it appears that there is no compression, but rather a full specification of the input spaces in the blended space.  I think this is a bypassing of compression, and I think that it makes the SNAKE represent the trajector of the motion, so by eliminating compression, what is normally construed as fictive motion has to be thought of as veridical motion; the SNAKE is moving, not the vacuous space of the canyon.

Does the movement of the snake imply causality? In other words, is the snake causing the winding of the canyon?

Does the movement of the snake imply opportunistic movement? In other words, is the snake moving in the canyon because the canyon is a CONDUIT in the conceptual metaphor sense?

Like I said in the first paragraph, except for cases where people are discussing rivers, people normally ascribe the motion to the canyon.  Canyon is thus conceived of as the substance moving through the CONDUIT. However, in this case, the snake is the substance moving through the conduit, and the snake is factively in motion.  This stagnates the fictive motion reading of this imagery, and replaces it with a blend that exploits a conceptual metaphor.  Amazing.

(image courtesy of The Glitch Mob press kit)

Language, Feelings, and the Construal of Insects: Differences between French and English


Image via Wikipedia

Since childhood I have thought that butterflies were good insects and that moths were bad insects.  After all, popular thought is that moths are creatures of destruction (hence the need for mothballs), even though this is not exactly the case.  Nevertheless, the frame for conceptualizing moths is a negative frame in English.

Contrast the English perspective with the French construal: butterfly is papillon, moth is papillon de nuit, or, night’s butterfly.  The negative construal is minimized by the fact that they are construed as being of a similar type.  In French, moth can be seen as a lexical subcategory of butterfly.

This is interesting because it shows how a folk-classification system affects the construal; from a cladistic standpoint Lepidoptera cannot be broken into a subgroup that distinguishes between moth and butterfly because moths and butterflies belong to the same monophyletic group with butterflies belonging to moths, and not the other way around as English speakers might hope.  By using a similar form for both creatures French is closer to the phylogenetic reality in its classification schema, but it would be closer if moth was papillon and butterfly were papillon de jour since the basic level papillon would then reflect the moth as the basic level creature.

The way we talk about something governs how we think about it.  French children probably have less disgust for moths than I did, simply because poetically a moth is a butterfly of the night, and not a creature of destruction.

Tagged , , ,

Real Life Applications of Cognitive Linguistics

Shopping's Goat...

Image by ImAges ImprObables via Flickr

I have said it before and I will say it again: ANYTHING that requires thought benefits from a cognitive linguistic perspective.

We use language to help in making sense of the world, this goes for broad and general topics as well as specific expert domains; language is the medium of meaning, wherever that meaning occurs.

The idea I use in my professional life as an organizational culture planner is to use cognitive science to make sense out of the systems of thought expressed in the routine tasks of the organization and to see how they are described through culture in the form of business practices and personnel behaviors.  If I can see how thought and culture relate via language structures (i.e., conceptual metaphors, conceptual blends, force-dynamics, attention, figure-ground relations, et cetera), then I can help grow organizational culture from an informed perspective.


If you take the communication produced in an average business meeting, break it up into sections that identify the underlying conceptual metaphors, see who communicates what message, and trace the outcomes of the meeting, you can start to get a feel for what drives the organization.


Because design is an artifact of human creativity, it reflects the processes of perception.  Pick up any art criticism, architecture and landscape writing, or pulp design magazine, and you will see a range of conceptual structures at play in the terms of the movement of a visual scene, the oscillation of figure and ground (which in many cases roughly correlate to grammatical subject and object), the directing of attention, and the general semiotic structure of the actual design or the commentary; each aspect of the design reflects conception and perception.


Since technology is used in every aspect of life, we can start to see how it becomes a part of culture and cognition; in fact, technology in many respects helps us to distribute our cognitive load across a piece of technology. Pieces of technology are like material anchors that helps us escape from merely thinking with our minds and instead enable us to think with our environment.  This is a matter of conceptual blending, and it plays out in the decisions we make using thought and language, since technology is a tool that helps us learn, decide, and act on collected knowledge.  This is as relevant for super-computers as it is for using a wooden ruler; technology of all forms enables us to actually have something to say about the sensed environment.


When people want to relate to each other, they use language and other models of symbolization to communicate.  One of the most frustrating and most interesting aspects of communication situations is knowing whether communication is actually happening, or if it is in fact failing.  A lot of this depends on negotiating the common ground to see what each party shares.  Since the language we use for communicating relies so heavily on metaphors, it is often interesting to look at which metaphors people use to communicate, and whether or not those metaphors are understood by the other conversation partners. This holds true for relationship counseling, for customer service relations, and for friendships.  Any time people get together, they use meaningful structures to communicate, and cognitive science offers a suite of tools to analyze that communication.

The idea I use in my work is to exploit the nuances in language and behavior to gain insight into what problems the organization is facing.  I use a three-pronged approach to collect, analyze, and present that data.  I then help the organization to see how to use the results in a meaningful way to produce actionable solutions.  What this does for me is invaluable; I get to have a good time working on different problems, and I get to see how different people work together to help me find solutions that work for them.

I welcome opportunities to participate in translating ideas into cultural practices and love to engage in productive collaboration with people who are open and curious.

Let me know if you want to talk. DM me: @SportLinguist, or leave a comment on the contact page.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Gone Thesis-ing

Container Ship

Image by MGSpiller via Flickr

As you might observe from the infrequency of posts, I have something else going on right now.  Frankly, I am frightened that the ideas I am mulling over for my thesis will get wasted by playing them out in blog posts, so I am conserving them as I do some other work.  But! Once I find my bearings I will begin to share the process so that it can be a collaborative process in the tradition of good science.  In the meantime, I might occasionally post stuff about fun things in my life like sailing, or hiking, running, birthday parties, dreams about wrestling beavers in woodpiles, gardening, or aesthetic minimalism.

Ok.  Stay tuned.  Seriously.  I know that people always write this on site pages that should really be 404 pages, because they never return to make good on the promised “coming soon”, but I have some serious fun lined up that because of my life and academic schedule WILL be completed on time; and when those deadlines come, I promise you with both sincerity and fortitude that I will begin posting again in earnest.  Subscribe to the blog with the sidebar button and you will know when I return.

Peace be with you.

Les animaux dansent dans le Safari Disco Club

Yelle at Mezzanine

Image by Darius Capulet via Flickr

I am slightly obsessed with Yelle’s Safari Disco Club. I have probably heard the entire album around 100 times since the start of summer.  It is incredibly poetic and full of sustainable fun… “avec un tas d’arrières pensées”.

Also, I should say that this album makes me want to listen to some old Madonna (which to me indicates something about what it means to be in the class of the truly talented versus the obnoxiously celebrated).

Building Narratives with Pictures

Occasionally I repost this picture book that presents a series of images and lets the viewer surmise a probable narrative.

Take the time to check it out.

Maple Keys remind me of a Taxonomy chart

Silver Maple. Seeds.

Image via Wikipedia

I was thinking about maple keys recently.

The maple key is an interesting schema of a taxonomy; the kernel is like a category node – the top-level domain.  Each vein in the wing of the seed branching away from the node is a trace of the path along which the line of membership in the category emerges as an [instance] of a membership [type].

On a slightly more abstract note, the veins also forecast a resemblance of the future roots and branches of the eventual tree, and in a way alluding to the further growth of category membership as each tree root eventually supports the life of the tree so that each tree branch can ultimately produce more seeds so that it might perpetuate, exponentially, the life of this tree of knowledge.


Tagged ,

Earth, Wind, Fire, Water…Fire wins for attention.

Campfire with sparks in Anttoora, Finland.

Image via Wikipedia

Last weekend when I was camping with some friends I was noticing how the layout of the campsite directed people’s attention.  It seemed as if no one paid attention to the surrounding scenery (the forest, the lakes, the mountains) because the focal point of the campsite was the fire pit.  Everything in the campsite oriented around the fire; even the way we chose to set up camp centripetally focused on the fire pit.  Tents faced the fire. The camp table faced the fire.

I found this directed attention kind of odd because intentionally, the fire pit was placed so that the background scenery would be the lake and the mountains across the lake.  But instead of attending to the scenery, everyone was rapt in attention and staring at the flames.  Fire mesmerized us all.

Tagged , , ,

Making eye contact as one form of coordination between store clerks and shoppers

Yesterday (a busy Saturday at 4pm) I went to a clothing store with my wife. While I was shopping I was almost run into by 4 employees who I felt were not looking where they were going. Two other employees were standing with clothing racks such that they blocked the entire aisle (these were main aisles too) and I had to weave my way through a maze of aisles to effectively navigate around the workers.

This struck me as odd.

Before I go any further, let me say that I have participated in other cultures where eye contact is dispreferred and this is not one of those situations.

I mentioned to my wife that no one was looking up to see where they were going and that no one had made eye contact with me. She said “maybe they have other ways of seeing where they are going.” I responded that I was not talking about whether or not they were able to sense obstacles in their paths, but it was more a matter of coordination.

I don’t meant coordination in terms of a person’s ability to balance or juggle or chew gum and walk; I meant coordination in terms of the social performance of a joint activity, in this case, negotiating aisle-etiquette between two people (let alone the fact that this incident was between store workers and a store customer). This is a matter of whether or not two people are able to jointly indicate to each other that they are aware of the presence of the other person so that mutually informed decisions about walking and passing can be established. As it stands, even if those employees sensed my presence their posture, lack of eye-contact, and aloof busyness prohibited them from confirming to me (and probably other shoppers) that they were not about to run me over.

Had they taken the brief 500 or so milliseconds to make eye contact with me, we both could have coordinated our actions any neither of us would have had to sacrifice energy to avoid the other.

Tagged ,

Truffle to Truffle: Metaphors of Dirty Decadence

Truffle Market in Carpentras.

Image via Wikipedia

I can’t tell if I like truffles the mushroom better than I like truffles the chocolate, but one thing is for sure, truffles of any kind offer a guilty pleasure.  From a cognitive science perspective both types of truffles are related to each other, perhaps not on the Linnaean taxonomy, but certainly from a metaphorical position.  Look at these facts:

Take the features of the Mushroom:

  1. Relative Rarity
  2. Decadent and Dark Earthiness
  3. Lumpy & Dirty
  4. Expensive

…and metaphorically translate them into Chocolate:

  1. Good ones (i.e., NOT Lindor or Trader Joes) are Rare
  2. Dark Chocolate Decadence
  3. Lumpy & Dusted with a fine cocoa powder
  4. Expensive

The idea is to get a sweet version of the savory kind, find a translatable equivalent from the language of savory to the language of sweet.

Both the mushroom and the chocolate share these two characteristics:

  • They are both Expensive, where: a) Cost correlates with Quality and b) Cost correlates with Rarity, and,
  • They are both Dirty
I have been making truffles by hand for a little over a decade and at first I followed a recipe but over time it has kind of evolved to the point that I feel that I can call it my own.  Here is my process:
Typically I take about a pound of a rich dark chocolate (try a slave-free chocolate from this list), shave it, melt it in a double boiler, concurrently bring about a cup of heavy whipping cream just to a boil (without scalding), remove it from the flame and fold the chocolate into the cream.  At this point I will add something special (i.e. dark rum, cayenne, or marmalade) and set it aside to cool.  This is the ganache for the truffle filling.  Once it is cool I scoop it into small marble-sized balls using a melon spoon, place them in my freezer and leave the door open (I use the freezer as part of my extended working space and it is easier than opening and closing the door).  Have on hand a deep bowl with an non-dutched cocoa powder (something French is nice).  I bring about 10 ounces of a different grade of chocolate to melting point (temper it if you know how) and one at a time roll the frozen ganache balls in the melted chocolate, gingerly dropping them into the bowl of cocoa powder and quickly swirling the truffle around in the powder.  If you do this right the powder covers the entire truffle and evens out the coating of tempered chocolate.  Remove it from the powder with a plastic spoon and return it to the chilled freezer to let it set up.  Keeping them any longer than a week diminishes their quality.

Now that I shared my recipe I want to address the metaphor.

The idea about the metaphorical transfer that takes place is that concepts from one domain are mapped onto referents in another domain; in this case: mushroom maps to chocolate.  Interestingly, like many metaphors, this directionality is a one way mapping, in other words, it might be hard to map concepts from the chocolate truffle back onto the mushroom truffle.  But this is not impossible, for instance, say that someone begins to wrap their truffle mushrooms in a foil bon-bon wrapper to add a touch of novelty – then this behavior would be a feedback mapping of the metaphor.  That said, no truffle vendor in their right mind would cheapen the mushroom with that kind of kitsch, and no sensible market customer would buy a wrapped truffle they could not see.  So practically, it is probably safe to say that the metaphor only goes one direction.

Looking at the dusting of the truffle with cocoa we can see how the dirt environment of the mushroom acts as a containing boundary, in fact, the irregular shape of the mushroom comes from the fact that it grows underground and the pressure of the soil molds the mushroom, the soil embodies a force schema of restraint and acts as a container.  Likewise, the swirling of the truffle in the cocoa powder shapes the truffle and envelopes the chocolate truffle in a skin of powder (another container).

To wrap things up, think about this super simplified rendering of the metaphor:

Can you think of any other types of food that could be mapped using this simple template?  If so, post a comment with an example, we should try and get a little typology of food process metaphors going.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Yep…it is a broken sink.



This was a sink in my house in West Africa.

Usage-Based Construction Selection

I just posted a seminar essay that I wrote a few months ago to the Cognitive Science Network. You can download the paper here (click the button that says “One-Click Download”) and read the abstract below:


Broadly, the cognitive linguistic enterprise seeks to identify an emergentist approach to language that investigates the motivation of language use, considers the effects of distributed cognition in situated communication, views complex systems of form-meaning pairings as primitives, and views online processing as dynamic. Within this tradition, this essay takes the position that language use is a manifestation of construal operations in the selection process of utilizing appropriate constructions which encode speaker perspective in a situated common ground. What follows is a usage-based treatment of the situated nature of construction selection in adult language informed by research in child language acquisition, discourse studies of communication, and construction grammar.

Why Fictive Motion Matters (briefly)

One of the interesting features of fictive motion is that the processing of fictive motion engages the mental resources used in performing the fictive motion, or at least correlates with time (saccades and scanning). This accords with the ideas of simulation semantics and spatial relations. Matlock & Richardson claim that distinct spatial relations can be evoked through fictive motion when contrastive literal recount of motion does not evoke that same degree of spatial relations (p. 12). They suggest that verbal and visual processes work together to interpret fictive motion. Consider the sentence, “Her hair ran all the way past her butt.” which likely evokes a visual representation of the back of a woman, long hair, her landmark butt, and the way that the hair traverses the distance.

Matlock argues that If we understand fictive motion as simulated motion it is probable that the simulation emerges from the collection of real world encyclopedic knowledge that we gather through our everyday experiences (p. 10). Consider this example “Apply the grout so that it runs between the tile” as compared to “Apply the grout between the tiles”. In the first example, the mental scanning likely causes the reader to mentally draw on our knowledge of stretches of tile and to follow them in a scanning motion for several tiles in a sequence. The second sentence probably evokes a more static image of two tiles with grout between them. This is interesting because it reflects the connection between mental processing, language, vision, and embodied experience.

How Goldbergʼs Cognitive Construction Grammar differs from Langackerʼs Cognitive Grammar

Cognitive Grammar (CG) views categories at a level of granularity that is below the views espoused in the current edition of Cognitive Construction Grammar (CCxG); instead of using prototypes, CG relies on an quasi-atomistic assemblage model for category formation. CCxG on the other hand could be seen as a more stochastic stab at the problem of category structure, since it is based on prototype effects. To me, these do not seem to be mutually exclusive foci; CG answers a lower level problem than CCxG. CCxG does not need that level of analysis because of the emphasis on generalization in construction use which exist at a higher level of concern.

Also, CG differs from CCxG in that CCxG looks at construal of meaning to be situation based and a matter of choice, CG, on the other hand, views construal as a fixed attribute of form. Consequently, CCxG may have a better view of semantics than CG since CCxG is not rigidly tied to the formalisms required by a reductionist model (even if it does maintain the claim that constructions are form-meaning pairings).

CG in this view, seems to be more focused on an association-based model to account for form-meaning pairings and CCxG seems to rely on construction generalizations to establish the meaning and frequency to confirm the form.

Protected: Haiman’s view of Iconic and Economic Motivation

This content is password protected. To view it please enter your password below:

Tagged , , , ,

Perpetual Epicentral Density Sphere

Dandelion seeds (achenes) can be carried long ...

Image via Wikipedia

The Perpetual Epicentral Density Sphere is a unpublished model of cognition that I began developing in the late ninety’s and early years of 2000 as a result of my training in linguistics and anthropology.  I worked on it before I knew what Cognitive Linguistics actually was and, in fact, it was part of my conversion to CogLing.  With a nod to remix culture and assemblage theory, this model tried to blend together several validated models of discourse and culture in a super feeble attempt to bridge the epistemological gulf between realism and relativism and explain the complete communication picture in a systematic and procedurally elegant way (read: quasi-arbitrary).  This was the early days of my interest in systems theory, but I was really naive about the complexity of complexity.  Basically, the more that I worked on the model the more I came to see that Cognitive Linguistics already had working solutions to a lot of the questions I was addressing.  In fact, when I read back through my notes now, I see that it is actually a model of attention and dynamic construal.  I won’t tell you anything more about the mechanics right now, but I expect that one day I will pull it back off the shelf and show it to the world; in the mean time, here is an analogy from my original manuscript (part of which is in this book) for you to chew on:

“Pick the white puff of seeds on a dandelion clock, pick the stem and hold it in your hand, and meticulously and decidedly, remove every single floating seed, one-by-one until there is only one remaining.  This is what the first thought does when it moves to the second thought.  You have deselected every seed, ignored them all but one, the one you highlighted, the one you lit up – the one you selected.  This, the lone seed on the stem, a sphere at the base, the rod line of the seed body, and the end of the seed a circle of tiny white hairs that extend radially from the stem in many many directions, this seed is a snapshot. You are holding in your hand the most natural visible representation of how your thoughts live and travel.  Now put that last seed up to your mouth and do the wind’s job and send that seed floating.  Where it lands it either develops or dies, just like your thought.”

“If you can take a line of thought and follow it to every dead-end, out every open door and window, to every destination – and catch it resting – you will see simply and plain how lawless and unruly even simple thoughts are in their brief lives.”

You can view images from my portfolio that were inspired through this process at:

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

On walking and mediated embodied experience in ethnographic map making

Girl walking in a beach. Porto Covo, Portugal.

Image via Wikipedia

Recently I’ve been thinking about my spatial experience of my contextual environment and about what I have learned over the years in consciously encountering space as a user of space, a creator of space, and a participant in community through space.  I am thinking about this as I am getting ready to do some tutoring on domain mapping in ethnographic research.  Here is a summary of my spatial experience.

As a child most of my experience with space was either moving through it on foot or by being driven around in a car.  Toss in the stroller, occasional plane ride, boating, crutches, sledding, riding a bicycle, but by and large WALKING and RIDING dominated my childhood experience of space.

As an adult I would live in cities like Chicago and Honolulu, places where the infrastructure encouraged walking.  This changed my understanding of terrain, and walking became my primary vantage point for my movement through space, although each place did have new modes of movement; Chicago had a train, Honolulu had surf boards.

Doing fieldwork in West Africa I would never drive; I saw most of sub-Saharan Africa in a van, or a Volkswagen, or a Renault, but I was always the passenger.  At least I could stare out the window and imagine what it was like at a walking pace.

Where I live now has a walkability score of 25 out of 100.  Where I lived in Chicago had a score of 98, Hawai’i had a score of 78; clearly my current 25 is pitiful in comparison.

To be fair, where I live now there are some residents with a score of 82, so, it is not like walking is precluded by living here, just that it is not easy for everyone (like me).  I walked home from work once and it took me three hours.

This has restricted my daily routine movement to driving.  These days I experience my landscape from a vehicle (much like my Africa passenger days), but this time I don’t even get to look around and pay attention to what zooms past my face; no, I only pay attention to that which is necessary to avoid collisions.

Driving has seriously hindered my sense of place.  I used to spend a lot of time walking, exploring, noticing things at street level, at a pace that let me participate and observe; being a car driver has forced me to give up participation with a place in favor of being a consumer of that place, the road is just a conduit.

Instead of participating with the place I now participate with my driving peers as we consume the street on our way to our various destinations.  The interactive dynamic is not with the people who reside in a place, but with people who routinely pass through the place.  This is like the boat that is moored to the riverbank, the boat might not move but the river has certainly changed.

Compared to the speed with which I now drive through my neighborhoods, walking is practically standing still.  Walking is being the boat moored to the bank; driving is the rushing river.  And the places I drive through do not really change either, but I have nothing to do with the neighborhoods which I zoom through, not the shops, not the landscape, not the people.

I need to stop driving so much.

I need to learn to walk, again.

I need to experience the physical crust of earth and to encounter a place with my feet, unmediated by round rubber tires and a gas pedal.

Being a driver has abstracted my encounter with a place by removing the minutia and patient tiny details made visible to the walking man.  I say “man” because I speak of myself; I was a walking man, like James Taylor, but now, where I live, if you walk expect to be stared at, honked at, yelled at by crazy fun-loving child-drivers, and occasionally the target of someone’s empty sodacan/coffeecup/waterbottle hurled out the window with an insult.  I am serious; walking is stigmatizing, and dangerous.

This is partly why I drive places.

My level of attention to place as a driver does not decompose into lower level experiences with place like it does on a stroll where those small experiences gradiently build up to become a walking journey, instead I pay more attention to how many red lights have impeded my progress.

Walking for me does more than serve the function of travel between places; I walk to know a place.

When I move somewhere new (or even visit from out of town), the first thing I do is walk around a place, in an ever widening gyre, a scroll stroll uncurling through a city emanating away from my apartment or hotel room.  I walk around and I get a feel for what surrounds me.  I don’t even look at a map until I have learned the map through my feet.  By doing this I start to learn my place in the broader context, and this is where you encounter the joys of a place, its people, its vitality, its curiosities; by walking you learn the identity of a place.

This afternoon I thought about how walking is natural for me as an ethnographer; in fact, walking is essential.  And one of the reasons it is so important is that it helps in making maps of a place, in mapping the domains and the various spatial relations found in that place.  Sure, you can sit somewhere and draw a map of everything you see, but I promise you, if you walk around a place and look first with your feet, your map will be more detailed, more accurate, and more relevant as you come to capture the reality which each participant experiences as they use that space.

I might have seen a lot of sub-Saharan West Africa, but it doesn’t mean too much to me, and I certainly could only attempt to map it out from an approximation of the various landmarks I happened to have noticed from the window.  This is because the dynamic and progressive movement of a vehicle is that your sense of figure-ground organization is constantly shifting, and it goes as fast as the driver feels is necessary.  But when you walk around, if something becomes figural in your field of vision, and you feel it is important, you get to pause for a moment and reflect on the significance of what you have seen.  This kind of intentional embodied experience is vital for making sense of a place.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A Layered Approach to a Common Ground Reading

I just posted another paper on the Social Science Research Network, it is an analysis of a multi-layered communication situation using Herbert Clark’s notion of the Common Ground.  Here is the abstract:

In a January 27, 2011 interview on the National Public Radio radio show Fresh Air (hosted by Terry Gross), guest Robert Spitzer made this comment: “Brazil doesn’t have a second amendment in their constitution.” However, as of May 2010 the Citizen Constitution (Brazil’s constitution since 1988) has been amended 64 times, which necessarily includes a second instance of an amendment being made. This fact renders a literal reading of Spitzer’s remark to be infelicitous. Instead, it is argued that Spitzer’s remark utilized the architecture of the situation to engage participants in a joint activity of maximizing the common ground.

This essay explores the role of a shared common ground in layered communication situations which enables participants to understand speaker construals. This falls within the domain of joint attention and pragmatic analysis of communication situations. Clark’s (1996) notion of Common Ground will be used to analyze the situation and untangle the communication layers to question what each participant needs to understand in order to orient on the intended meaning of the speaker. Using attested data from a radio interview, this paper explores three layers of communication and identifies the various aspects of a common ground that are required for a proper reading of a speaker’s intended meaning. This common ground is argued to be essential in the process of the negotiation of meaning. What follows is an initial exposition of the methodological process in this analysis, followed by a situating of the context for the data, and finally the application of the analytical method to the data with appropriate conclusions.

Attention Hot Heads (of any stripe): I want to be clear about this, I am analyzing the structure and content of someone’s statements about the Second Amendment; I am not making any kind of evaluation (positive, negative, or neutral) of the content of the surrounding political discourse about gun laws.  I will not debate in the comments about any aspect of this political discourse, but I will debate aspects of my analysis and of Clark’s notion of the common ground.

Download my paper here:

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Why I Care About Ontology

Staircase perspective.

Image via Wikipedia

In a broad sense of the term, any particular ontology serves as a framework against which we interpret information; think of it like an organized perspective that we use as a lens to view and understand the world.

When you study a culture you are concerned with figuring out how they understand the world and how they make sense of the world.  This study of sense-making follows the concept that people do what seems logical and rational to their perspective.  I am interested in mapping these sense-making resources and translating them into a format that reveals the internal consistency and relationships between the rationale and the external context and stimuli.

If you look back through the histories of science & philosophy you will see the pendulum swing between two extremes in regard to ontology, one extreme believes that there is a unified and complete ontological structure to the world, the other extreme believes that there are many unified and complete ontological structures.  This is the debate between whether we can know truth objectively, or whether it is known as a perspective.

In my work I explore how we construct global formal ontologies as well as how we generate idiosyncratic folk-ontologies; this is the both/and response – I want to know how we engage in thinking when it is shaped by public beliefs and private beliefs and what it takes to reconcile the disjunctions.

One of the ideas that has kept my attention the longest is that the structure of a thought represents the choices that have been made to arrive at that thought, and that structure also shows us what has been ignored as the thought is being formed.  I want to know how the external world interacts with the internal world.  I want to know how it directs our thinking.  This is the foundational riddle that makes me want to do linguistics.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Language Change and Burritos

A Chipotle restaurant sign

Image via Wikipedia

Driving home from class last night I spotted a new Chipotle billboard and it made me think about language change.  The copy-writer used indefinite article a but not the form of the article usually expected for the context (I usually expect an with a vowel-initial word).  Here is the text:

“Our ingredients on a ego trip.”

Frankly, this doesn’t make me mourn anything about the state of American English, instead I choose to see this as language change happening right before my eyes.

What are your thoughts about language change?

What are your thoughts about a usage-based grammar vs. a prescriptive grammar?

Leave some comments.

Tagged , , , ,

Schematic Construals in Favor of Ecological Transportation

If you say the admittedly odd sentence “The baby feeds on mother’s milk.” it accesses a parasitic construal for the act of eating.  Pardon any offense this might cause you; I promise to redeem myself.  I am not saying that babies are parasites, but that the transfer involved could be construed as parasitic at this stage (depending on your nature/nurture views).  Please hang on for a few more sentences.

If you replace the lexical items with items from the same grammatical categories you could arrive at this sentence: “The car runs on gasoline”; this construal is merely consumptive.  All that has been done is replace a subject noun (baby) for another subject noun (car), a verb phrase (feeds on) for another similar verb phrase (runs on), and finally, a noun (mother’s milk) for an another noun (gasoline).

The innocent and non-parasitic behavior of the car in the second example sentence results from the fact that the source of the consumed material is absent from the semantics of the sentence.  Some would argue that it is implied.

So far we have a baby that acts parasitically toward its mother in order to consume a substance in order to operate, and a car that acts consumptively toward a substance in order to operate.

I want to argue that the car is actually parasitic depending on how your worldview construes the relationship between gasoline and its originating source: fossil fuel that comes from within the earth.  A reading of the earth as a mother (which many mythological systems do) would render the car’s unidirectional consumption of fuel a parasitic consumption of a resource from the earth.  If you construe the concept CAR in this parasitic way and realize that it is markedly different from a relationship between a child and a mother (the child later benefits the mother, they have a loving bond, they provide things for each other – exculpating the child from the parasitic framing), it seems reasonable to begin to look for ways to mitigate the parasitic nature of the car.  While some of the emissions from a car may provide positive feedback into the system our earth belongs to, by and large the car does nothing good for the earth, and truly embodies the role of parasite.

Something should change.

Because transferral of energy always entails a forward chain of consumption, it cannot be the consumption model that needs to change; it must be the parasitic nature.

One alternative is an epiphytic consumption, something like a solar car.  (At this point you probably see that this is not an article about babies or about cars, but rather construal and schematization).  Whether or not solar cars are a reality, that model would satisfy the need to reduce the parasitic nature of gasoline-run cars on the limited resources of a mother earth.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Different Uses of “If”

Arthur River, Mitre Peak and Milford Sound, 19...

Image by National Library NZ on The Commons via Flickr

  1. If we don’t pay that ticket, then I will have to go to court. [causal]
  2. It would be great if everyone just got along. [idealistic]
  3. I wonder if she knows she has jelly all over her silk blouse? [oblique]
  4. This kind of mustard, if it can even be called mustard, makes me sick.[aside/exception/dismissive/doubt]
  5. We can keep talking, if you want. [permission]
  6. If you don’t shut up, we are splitting up. [threat conditional]
  7. If everyone is doing it, I might as well do it too. [since causal]
  8. If you’re not shutting up, well, I guess we are splitting up. [since/continuing conditional]
  9. Sounds iffy to me. [uncertainty]
  10. We have to consider the “what ifs?” in order to do our jobs properly. [full NP uncertainty construction]
  11. We have to consider the “what ifs?” if we want to succeed. [conditional]
  12. Treat everyone with kindness, if not respect. [restrictive]
  13. If you must. [concession]
  14. If only. [implausibility]
  15. As if. [sarcastic implausibility]
  16. If he was an ogre, at least he was kind. [factual]

Celebrate the Ides of March: Caused Motion Transitivity, Brutus and the Knife

I was thinking about examples of caused-motion verbs and realized that English has a caused-motion transitive use of the verb to run.  What might an example look like? Simple:

“Brutus ran a knife into Caesar’s back.”

You could say that this is merely metaphorical, but then, you would be wrong.  Try removing the indirect object:

*”Brutus ran a knife.”

My, that’s ugly.  It looks like the laurel wreath goes to transitivity for this use of run. Long live the transitive construction and the Cognitive Empire.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

How Inception Helps Me Edit Papers

Inception: Alternative Poster

When I am writing a paper that has a page limit I use the first draft to make sure that I have a complete thought, I do not worry about exceeding the page limit.

For the first round of editing I read through the entire paper once. I then reread the paper section by section.

I open a new document for sections which I want to edit and conduct all of my editing in the new window so that I can preserve the original thought while I carve up its copy.

During that new window editing, I will then take paragraphs from the section and open new windows for each of them before using the cut copy paste “kick” to move it back through the layers of the document.

When I make it back to the original layer, what I am left with is a concise, coherent, and consistent paper. In a way, for each paragraph I have gone three layers deep to plant my idea.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

How I became a Linguist: Characteristics of Intelligent Behavior

Systems thinking about the society

Image via Wikipedia

Sometime in the early nineties my mother gave me a list of Arthur Costa’s twelve characteristics of intelligent behavior.  This list actually had a lot of influence in my life as I stumbled upon the trajectory toward anthropology and linguistics.  It taught me that I could actually organize observations and thoughts and cause them to not only make sense out of reality, but to blend the sense-making process with the process of describing reality.

I wanted to summarize Costa’s 1988 list here and to provide a link to a full article by Costa that explains the rationale behind each of the list items.

  1. Persistence, persevering when the solution to a problem is not immediately apparent
  2. Decreasing Impulsivity
  3. Listening to Others – with Empathy and Understanding
  4. Flexibility in Thinking
  5. Metacognition: Awareness of Our Own Thinking
  6. Checking for Accuracy and Precision
  7. Questioning and Problem Posing
  8. Drawing on Past Knowledge and Applying it to New Situations
  9. Precision of Language and Thought
  10. Using All the Senses
  11. Ingenuity, Originality, Insightfulness: Creativity
  12. Wonderment, inquisitiveness, curiosity, and the enjoyment of problem solving – a sense of efficacy as a thinker [Costa: 1988]

What strikes me as important in this list, is the correlation to the task of conducting both anthropological and linguistic fieldwork.  Wherever one is a stranger this list equips with the basic attitude necessary to learn to fit it, or at least to be welcomed in to a community.

This list is also manifest in anyone doing any kind of systems science.  All twelve of these skills make it possible for you to collect data, analyze it, and turn it into some kind of presentable report that describes the system.  This three activity cycle: collect, analyze, present is what I feel is at the core of being any kind of productively observational person.

Since this original list was published in the 80′s, Costa has revised it under the label “Habits of Mind” and expanded it to include 16 habits.  Since this revised list was not a part of my path to linguistics I chose instead to list the original.  However, the revised list is great and can be found here.


Costa, Arthur, L. (1988). Teaching for Intelligence: recognizing and encouraging skillful thinking and behavior. (p.22) in Transforming Education (IC #8), Context Institute. Stable URL:

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

On Failure & Resilience in Optimization of Human Systems, Ecological Systems, and Networked Systems of Systems

I was recently watching Eleanor Saitta’s talk called “Your Infrastructure Will Kill You“.  Part of her talk outlined how optimization equals fragility (more or less).  That to the degree that something is cleaner, more elegant, or more efficient, it is fragile, and a break in the system can be potentially catastrophic.

In thinking about her comments I thought of a few examples where I have observed optimization creating a state of fragility, here are a few of my thoughts:

  • This has interesting considerations for general principles of design, specifically the form/function aspect of design. Probably the point at which form begins to extend beyond the needs of function the focus on form becomes gratuitous and potentially even hazardous (depending on the type of system).  Ironically, optimization in this case is not absolute optimization, but only optimization considering a specific set of requirements: when things are running smoothly then the system is optimized.
  • Another place for failure is when relationships are optimized; when the dispersal of information through a system relies on optimized relationships it only takes the breaking of one of the nodes in a network to create a chain reaction of subsequent nodes being uninformed.We think about how a well-connected network effectively distributes information, specifically in recent thought this informed an analysis of William Dawes vs. Paul Revere – showing how Revere’s relationship of network brokers enabled him to broadcast more extensively than Dawes’ impoverished closed network.  This is good thinking, except that it misses the point of threat: Revere was a weak link in that optimized chain of information; had he been eliminated his message would have been eliminated.  Revere and his network, although connected and optimized, were fragile.
  • In generative linguistics there is an optimization of the lexicon. Economy in space is valued above economy in processing; if this is opaque to you, I mean that generative linguistics tries to minimize the amount of information that it stores as unique units.  It is called “generative” because it generates complex utterances from values stored in the lexicon through recursion, instead of storing those values as wholes.  But there is a weakness; in optimizing the lexicon the generative power of the spell-out rules of Universal Grammar are fragile when it comes to dealing with actual language usage (which is the test of a linguistic theory, is it not?), and the rules fail to account for some foundational constructions of language (like idioms for example).

Ok, so there are lots of places where optimization leads to failure, but what are some ways in which optimization leads to resilience?  What are some solutions to these problems?

Redundancy is a great solution, but it is bulky.

  • When function is optimized it allows you to work backwards in the process of making things have better forms. This is actually how a lot of design progresses.  Think about how every piece of electronic technology that we have today had a larger predecessor.  Think about those clunky mobile phones from the eighties with the handset, base and cord in a leather bag, now look at the mobile phone you carry in your pocket.  Functionality was concept proven in the clunky design, and the form was optimized to enhance the function.
  • It seems to me that the optimization weakness in the Revere incident was that Revere was the weak link.  Instead of depending on the optimization of Revere’s relationships, perhaps the message itself needed optimization. One possible way to optimize the information load of a message is to abstract it (as was done with the signal of the hanging lanterns to indicate the route of attack), and another way is to reduce dependence upon a single messenger exploiting a network (In 1775 the sexton who hung the lanterns was a single messenger, Revere was a single messenger, et cetera).  Flooding a network with messengers bearing an abstracted signal would have been less fragile (put aside for the moment the need for secrecy in the 1775 incident).  In situations where secrecy is not vital, consider how this kind of network flooding would communicate the coherence of the message; when you hear the same thing from five people you at least start giving some credence to the constancy of the message.  In such cases what may have been unknown or even background information becomes salient and foregrounded through repeated exposure. Also, consider other types of signals that can be exploited to prompt a response of crowd mobilization, noises work particularly well.  Sirens and loud noises alert and orient people’s attentional systems toward the source of the signal, and that source becomes figural in the contextual noise of that signal.
  • Optimization can lead to resilience in online processing, like in a maximized lexicon that places the task of optimization on the processing skills required in the selection and extraction of form-meaning elements from the inventory.  Cognitive approaches to the lexicon seek to preserve economy in processing; instead of having a minimal lexicon with lots of processing rules, the cognitive approach has an ordered inventory of form-meaning pairings (including monomorphemic elements, constructions, and phrases that are learned whole), with an optimized processing system of constraints, schemas, and other elements of cognitive processing (see this week’s post on emergentist vs. universalist view for understanding the contrast in general cognitive processing vs. modular mind).
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Primitive Modals in Child Language (Hafta, Wanna, Gonna) As Functionally Equivalent to Auxiliary Modals

Modals represent a perspective of force in relation to the participatory elements of a construction.  In fact, they represent an encoding of force in the relation between subject, verb, and object.

Children acquire modals by way of constructions that employ notions of speaker attitudes like intention, volition, and compulsion (245, Tomasello: 2003), and the constructions that they use are form-meaning pairings of these attitudes to a class of non-modal verbs including: want, have, need, among others.  Through use of these constructions, children begin to use reduced forms to communicate their understanding of internal volition (wanna), external compulsion (hafta), internal compulsion (needta) where the verb is coupled with a reduced form of “to” (indicating direction toward) (246, Tomasello: 2003).

These quasi-modal constructions are aligned functionally with auxiliary modals which direct degrees of compulsion and force of purpose.  This is seen in the deontic modal function of hafta which equates with must (Tomasello, 262).  In a way, these can both be understood to represent a requirement on the part of the grammatical subject.


Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

An Emergentist vs. Universalist view of Language and Cognition

Distributed cognition

Image by Lisa Brewster via Flickr

I wanted to present a list that outlines some of the main differences in thought about language between Emergentist and Universalist perspectives.  This is important I think because it shows how only certain kinds of programmers and mathematicians can work successfully within a Cognitive framework.

Consider these characteristics of an Emergentist (Cognitive) view:

  1. Singular Mind (General Cognitive Abilities)
  2. Distributed Cognition
  3. Neo-Empiricist
  4. The Complex System IS the primitive
  5. Prototypes
  6. Online and Dynamic Processing
  7. Usage Based View of Language
  8. Falsifiable
  9. The Appropriate Level of Granularity is the Form-Meaning Pair (i.e., constructions)

Now, compare that list with this Universalist (usually Generative) view on the same issues:

  1. Modular Mind
  2. Localization in Neuroscience
  3. Innate
  4. Atomistic, Reduce!
  5. Feature based categories & Atomistic Set Theory
  6. Stable Structures and “Switches” that enable cognition
  7. Competence Based View of Language
  8. Language is the de facto expected product of the mind
  9. Reductionism refines phenomena out of existence

Can some middle perspective be taken that combines both extremes?  What are your thoughts?

Tagged , , , , , , ,

How Children’s Overgeneralizations in Construction Use Informs Second Language Acquisition and the Negotiation of Meaning

The acquisition of abstract grammatical constructions represents the maturation of a child’s linguistic productivity.  This productivity means that a child can take constructions that have already been learned and extend the application of the construction by using different words.

One way to identify if the child has utilized a new construction in a productive way is to look for overgeneralizations in the application of the construction.  For instance, things that sound like mistakes in a child’s speech might actually represent the analogical extension of a learned construction into new lexical territory to attempt to communicate something that the child understands, but which is outside of the acquired bank of constructions.  Children sometimes use intransitive verbs in a transitive construction.  While this overgeneralization of the transitive construction is ungrammatical, it does represent an attempt at productive use of learned lexical concepts in learned constructions.  Adults encountering overgeneralizations may be able to determine what the child is attempting to communicate as the actual utterance represents an encoding of a concept with the construction as the foundation of meaning with the intransitive verb as the domain of meaning.  “He falled me down” (Bowerman 1982, cited in Tomasello 2003) is an attested case which indicates that the child has not acquired the appropriate transitive verb to describe the situation of being knocked over, even though the child has acquired the transitive construction.

This is a strategy of innovation in conversation, and may have insight for second language acquisition; when a construction for a particular concept is known, but the lexical particulars are unknown, adapting lexical particulars that account for the general concept and using them in a known construction permits the fielding of the ill-formed utterance and enabling the negotiation of meaning to take place.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Intention Directing, Self-Reporting, and the Transitive Constructions in Early Childhood Grammar (preschool, 2-5 years old)

Group of children in a primary school in Paris

Image via Wikipedia

Since constructions are learned through usage, constructions are accumulated as individual entities that begin to form collections and these collections of constructions begin to exhibit type frequency.  I think that this type frequency represents an aspect of the nature of child conceptualization, and indeed, it enables the communication of conceptualization in relational behavior from early ages.  This post explores a little about my extension of Tomasello’s analysis of the abstract transitive construction from his book Constructing a Language.

Tomasello divides a list of verbs used in the transitive constructions into four categories: Having Objects, Moving or Transforming Objects, Acting on Objects, and Psychological Activities (150, Tomasello: 2003).  These are not productive constructions until around 3,5; at which point children begin to use the transitive construction with verbs outside of the list presented by Tomasello.  Children use the verbs to indicate Agent and Patient roles in the [Trans-SUBJ Trans-VERB Trans-OBJ] transitive construction.  Looking through the list of verbs presented in Tomasello’s text it is easy to see that children have subjective conceptualizations and are able to begin articulating these ideas.  Verbs like: mean, know, like, help, need, and want represent a complex internal awareness of the interface between the physical/objective world and the mental/subjective world.  This understanding of the descriptive functions of the transitive construction enable the child to foray into relational transactions that involve intention-directing and launch the child into participation in the social world with the means to assert their identity as communicative entities in conversation.  These constructions allow self-reporting of internal states and an articulation of desire that transcends the physical environment.  The child can now make declarations, but also utter imperatives regarding subjective concepts to effect changes in the concrete world.

Interestingly, the early abstract transitive constructions allow the child to place varying degrees of focus on the elements used in the construction.  This is a salience-determining skill that allows the child to manipulate meaning in relation to the Agent and Patient roles, which may be a precursor to learning other constructions like the Passive construction.  Additionally, the emergence of this ability may represent the manifestation of figure-ground distinctions in early child grammar.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How Novel Constructions Emerge Over Time

Reading Michael Israel’s The Way Constructions Grow taught me some things about how novel constructions actually emerge in a language.  I encourage you to check out this classic article.

The -Way construction in present usage has undertaken a sort of functional compression since its earliest usages in the 1300s.  Three main functions have been historically tracked in the -way construction usage: motion, path creation, and possession.  Motion has been functionally understood in the manner sense

Path creation has been functionally understood as the means sense.  Possession is not dealt with in an in depth manner, and Israel focuses on analyzing the convergence of Motion and Path Creation into the modern -way construction.

Here are two examples:

  • He chewed his way out of that mess (path creation)
  • The dog crawled his way home after getting hit by the truck (motion)

In the beginning the -way construction needed verbs that were related to motion and path creation, but as time went on it began to incorporate verbs that are “marginally or incidentally related to the actual expressed motion.”

The idea is that over time something I call “functional compression” occurred as the generic construction was expanded to include the different functional senses (Motion, Path Creation, Possession), which resulted in an increase in the construction’s productivity.  This process was enabled by the use of analogical extensions

Analogical usage and schema abstraction both provide important implications of CogLing approaches.  Analogical usage corresponds to the Production Principle which states that utterances should sound like things the speaker has heard before.  This is a form of conservatism in the theoretical framework.  Schema abstraction corresponds to the Comprehension Principles which states that representations should capture similarities across experienced usages, and assists innovation and novel extension.  This idea of compression is important for dealing with a vast exposure to similar tokens of a construction.

Tagged , ,

Constructional Islands and the Organization of Language in Child Language Acquisition

Wake Island is a volcanic island that has beco...

Image via Wikipedia

When a child’s multi-word utterances are formed around a particular and limited set of linguistic items (either Nouns or Verbs), Tomasello (2003) terms them “Islands” to emphasize how their structured form clustered around a particular Noun or Verb.  Picture the Noun or Verb at the center of the island.  This is not evident in their other forms which might not be organized around a central lexical item.  So Tomasello claims that the Islands are the beginning elements of organization in an “otherwise unorganized language system” [117].  This reflects how children rely on instances and instance-specific manifestations (tokens) to begin forming the basis for mature adult constructions.  Since children are less able to generalize (as adults do when accessing construction types), they must begin to use specific instances, and upon collecting sufficient instances, begin to expand the territory of their constructional islands into full-on adult constructions.  This reflects the child’s ability to maximize frequency in a usage-based approach.  Their exposure to the centers of their constructional islands is not preprogrammed (as is claimed in a UG framework), but emerges from usage.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Foundational Cognitive Skills that Babies Need in Language Development

Reading on a Friday night

Image by mr brown via Flickr

As mentioned (yesterday’s post) three skills emerge from this acceptance of the triadic perspective:

1) Joint Attention Frame; 2)Intention Reading; and 3) Cultural Learning (Pattern Finding).  Joint Attention is the ability to coordinate attention with another individual on a third entity.  These third entities move from strictly concrete entities to more abstract entities as time goes by.  Without the ability to have a joint attention frame the transfer of knowledge would be impossible and the ability to converse with others in a meaningful way is equally impossible.  The process of intention reading is critical to understanding how others can have their behaviors influenced and likewise how the self can be influenced by the intentions of others.  Although not explicitly stated in Tomasello’s 2003 text, this particular cognitive skill would seem to be the foundation of basic relational strategies like the establishment of trust and credibility.  The final skill is pattern finding which enables cultural learning as the infant observes behavioral, intentional, and relational patterns in the contextual cultural community.  The child develops a sense for how things are done by intentional agents as the child attends to the patterns demonstrated through the everyday lives of those intentional agents with whom the child relates.

Tagged , , , ,

Baby Behaviors Around 9-12 Months Enable “Conversation”

Joint Attention

Image by jeanbaptisteparis via Flickr

Infants move from a strictly dyadic sort of attentional phenomena to a triadic behavioral attention at around 9-12 months of age.  This opens the world for infants to allow them to consider other people as intentional agents with whom it is possible to interact.  This provides a platform for the infants to begin engaging in a relational way as a precursor to conversation including new ways of referencing the world around them and new ways of coordinating attention of the outside intentional agents.  Without this development into the capacity for accessing a triadic perspective children would be unable to operate in a joint attention frame, would be unable to read intention, and would not maximize cultural learning – all of which depend on recognizing the other-than-self as self-motivated.

I added this picture because it represents Joint Attention…now, substitute the three adults for an adult and an infant – this represents the ability to focus in a joint attention frame so as to develop a sense of common ground.  Stay tuned…more to come.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Bybee’s notion of “exemplar representation”

In exemplar representation situation-specific tokens are decoded and classified as being instance-overlaps with existing exemplars and thereby reinforcing that exemplar instance, or else they are classified as having slight divergence from the existing exemplar, and so the situation-specific token gets classified as a new exemplar.  The idea is that the usage and mapping of meanings are situated best examples; the situated usage of the meaning (i.e., the exemplar) reveals the meaning to be in line with a known exemplar, or to be an extension of an existing exemplar which merits formation of a new exemplar to represent this new situated token.  In this approach, frequency of tokens enables the solidification of exemplars (reinforces knowledge) or enables the expansion of exemplars (increasing knowledge).

Tagged , , ,

Token Frequency and a Usage-Based Grammar

Token Frequency motivates learning through acknowledgement of repetition and familiarity.  This frequency reflects the type as it is instantiated through the various token usages.  In the Usage-Based perspective the token is the instance that is repeated and subsequently learned, giving rise to the type, and by extension, equating the type with its function.  Type and Token relate functionally and enable an emergence of grammar (without depending on the a priori insistence on Universal Grammar).

A Generative account does not need the idea of repetition to ground the learning of constructions since Universal Grammar already contains the abstraction of constructions.  Generative thought does not arrive at the Type by repetition, as the Type exists in UG, and is made manifest as Tokens in language use.  Token frequency is irrelevant in Generative models, except as it correlates to speaker competence and performance, and as it is paradigmatically selected in the UG compliant syntax.  In this way, Token and Type relate formally to one another and enable rules like PSRs to maximize multiple reinvestment of language.  The Generative understanding of Type:Token is thus driven in a top-down direction, not permitting token frequency to alter the grammar from the ground up since UG dominates from the top of the hierarchy.

This is why I think that the Usage-Based approach more adequately addresses the emergence of grammar through habituation and entrenchment.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Doing Strategic Planning #4: Adapting Existing Organization-External Materials for Internal Use

GDP Composition By Sector and Labour Force By ...

Image via Wikipedia

This is part of the continuing series about Strategic Planning and outlines the process I am using with a particular organization.  I wanted to briefly explain something that I think is a viable pattern for learning from others, namely, looking at their work and seeing how you need to shape your own work in order to be considered a participating member of the industry.

The organization I am working for is trying to draft a strategic plan that also accounts for decision-making policies in how they invest in different causes.  Many of those causes include development work in places that have the shared features of extreme poverty, drastically different cultural values, and non-Western perspectives (i.e., post-colonial environments).  After listening to the organization talk about their vision and mission and seeing the history of their work and recognizing their place of respect in the development community I felt that it was important to make sure that they were at least in line with the ethical standards of similar industries (especially anthropology).  After looking through different industry codes of ethics I decided that the American Anthropological Association had a superb code of ethics and that without violating copyrights I would use it as a research tool to identify the major domains of concern for ethical conduct.  This is an ongoing process and it will be a few weeks before I am completely content with the results.  My approach will include working with my organization to help them see how the AAA code of ethics can inform their own tactics and methods that emerge to meet the strategic goals.  Basically, I hope that the organization can use this code of ethics to continue to drive their own policy and decision-making.

This is following my personal learning strategy: Collect, Analyze, Present.  And I am teaching the organization to collect the views of others, to analyze how they might apply to their own work, and present them in a format that suits the strategic goals of the organization.

Stay tuned for updates.

Post Script: WordPress has a feature that suggests related articles and before I published this article it suggested this interesting link:

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Strategies for Multifaceted Learning/Living

In line with my post on collaboration as the central tenet of virtual city membership, and my posts on multifaceted learning for multifaceted living, I want to propose a few strategies to maximize your impression in a multifaceted world.  There are many more strategies than the six that I provide here, but adopting these in your own life can help to provide a structure to the presentation of self. Make these your own by adapting them to your personality and individual style.  Anyway, here they are:

(1) Use a blank business card. Yes, a blank one.  Get a box of blank cards on a quality card stock and hand-write your card in front of the person you are giving it to.  Include what it was that you were talking about and how to contact you.  Every time I use this technique people remember me.  Part of being a multifaceted worker entails having a host of skills that are not easy to capture on a single business card.  I feel that the generic “consultant” label is so unoriginal and non-descriptive (& I have consulted in four different fields: Italian fashion for Japanese women, Discourse analysis in translation, Strategic planning for small foundations, and Process modeling).  When you write this business card pick a word that epitomizes the skill that you are offering to that one particular person you are giving the card to…CUSTOM MAKE this card on the spot. Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Stone Soup, Bouillon Cubes, and Innovation

In my childhood I think it was the fable about Stone Soup that made me start to think about innovation.  As I learned to cook and came further into the world of soup-lore I realized that good soups rely on a reduction of some sort, some kind of richly delicious liquid broth.  In the food world reducing things to something rich and dense is worthy of gustatorial praise.  A brief tour of cookery terms reveal that we have many aspirations to reductions (I am thinking about words like reduction, concentration, syrup, et cetera) and our food science inventions reveal something similar: the bouillon cube.  I think beyond a soup stock, the bouillon cube is the pinnacle achievement of reduction.  It is an abstraction of flavor from the specificity of the ingredients.  But anyway, getting to the point, I don’t like to use bouillon cubes; instead, I make my own soup stocks from scratch in much the same manner as the man who first made stone soup.

For a while now I have been finding myself throwing my vegetable scraps in the freezer so that I can use them to make soup stocks from scratch.  I have recently started cycling through the process on a weekly basis.  Take a look at this week’s table-scraps: Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Speed through Penmanship

The English alphabet, both upper and lower cas...

Image via Wikipedia

I never realized this, but apparently cursive writing is supposed to make you write faster.

[I always hated making uppercase Q...]


Ham Radio was the original Twitter

Amateur radio station of DJ4PI

Image via Wikipedia

So I was driving home last night and saw an old man in his station wagon, I happened to notice that his license plate was his amateur radio call sign.  This promptly reminded me of a recent occurrence at the Linguistic Society of America’s annual meeting where some of my Twitter friends had a “TweetUp” (for the uninitiated, it is akin to a “Meet Up”). In the lobby of the hotel we started to introduce ourselves by our Twitter profile names.  In fact, most people had their profile name on the back of their conference name badge printed like this: “@SportLinguist” (go ahead, follow me).

As my first exposure to this kind of behavior it was an interesting moment for me.  But this is certainly not the first time this has happened for Twitter users, and it is certainly not the firs time it has happened in technological history.  Pre-internet days had people using Citizen Band (CB) radios where everyone had a “Handle” (aka: radio name), and this was the tool that truckers and road-trippers used to stay connected on the lonely highway.  Before the CB was the Amateur Radio and the “Hams” that used them.  In fact, so as not to mislead you, Amateur Radio still has a strong presence and user base, even recently being used in OUTER SPACE at the International Space Station. Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Doing Strategic Planning #2: Decision Making and Identifying Policy Material through Discourse Analysis

,., decision making

Image by nerovivo via Flickr

Continuing on the posts about strategic planning, today I want to share how I encourage people to develop policy.  The organization that I am helping had a baseline report drafted by a committee member.  In the baseline report all of the areas of involvement were catalogued and this person identified several gaps in the way that the organization operated.  This person also organized all of the decision-making processes that the organization (a small foundation) uses to conduct day-to-day business and to make decisions about monetary investments & expenditures.

The organization has a long history of successful functioning and I am only a recent player in the story, but the organization is in a state of transformation and part of my role is to bring consistency to the process of adaptation.  Basically this project is sort of the development of a change-management strategy.  This means that a lot of policies will need to be rewritten.  In fact, decision-making is the prime goal of this particular strategic planning project.

Because the organization already had several documents and had recently drafted the baseline report I was able to compare the report to the historical documents and identify statements that would drive the prospective policy.  I borrow a common industry standard called “requirements” that are basically active-voice, single-proposition statements that elucidate a concept that is vital to be considered in the system (the decision-making process in our case).  Another feature of these statements is that they usually contain an auxiliary modal to indicate a degree of forcefulness behind the statement.  Again, the idea is to get at what things are vital to be considered in the decision-making process.

I took the baseline report and identified what the committee member found as criteria for decision-making.  I made a list of these items.  Next, I took the historical decision-making documents and identified where those criteria came from in the historical document and made a list of those locations.  This is like the process of making a concordance of references and is similar to the data management strategies that field linguists and anthropologists use in constructing data tables and dictionaries.

I asked the organization members to look through the documents and draft their own list of these vital statements so that through the process of this shared discourse experience they would become increasingly familiar with the actual textual material that we will be using to draft the strategy and goals in subsequent meetings.  The idea was to get people thinking about what their real needs actually are before they start looking to the future and to do this with an eye toward using policy to keep their strategy planning in line with their vision and mission statement and other relevant brand documentation.

Stay tuned for further updates.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Inherent Narratives in Ad Hoc Collections

Part of my portfolio includes this project called Weaving Narratives: Possessions = Autobiographies, it is an exploration into how any ad hoc grouping of objects has some kind of inherent narrative, albeit a selected and limited narrative; but it is a narrative nonetheless.

When I was a boy I remember my father keeping a box of items that meant a lot to him.  I keep a box like this too.  The Italian blacksmith that I apprenticed under also kept boxes of items, but on a different scale; when he died I got one of those boxes: we call it a storage unit in American English. Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Sample Sentences Using Spradley’s Nine Semantic Relations from The Ethnographic Interview

Cover of "The Ethnographic Interview"

Cover of The Ethnographic Interview

I love James Spradley’s work on ethnographic interviews, componential analysis, taxonomic analysis, and participant observation, but Spradley’s work on semantic analysis has been the most thought-provoking for me theoretically.  Here I list out his nine semantic relationships and give some sample descriptive sentences to show you how the semantic relation describes the two elements in the relationship.  I have to say, however, that none of these sentences are very natural in a natural language kind of way.  In fact, the one concern that I have with Spradley’s view of semantics (from my usage-based cognitive view of language) is that it does not adequately lend itself to a straightforward modeling of the semantics of a natural language sentence.  Instead, if you want to use this for natural language, it has to be on a propositional level.

These semantics are best for modeling culture and the dynamics of a culture.  After all, they were drawn up in a methodology for ethnography.  In the sentences I present below you will find that they have a rigid and non-human sound to them; in fact, I think (and this is my opinion), that if you want to use Spradley’s semantics for anything other than modeling culture, that they are best used in formal system modeling, such as an expert system. Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 37 other followers