Reappraising the Role of Linear Structure in Language

14 - 18 September 2015

Venue: Lorentz Center@Snellius

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Description and Aim

The fact that human language can be analysed as hierarchically structured has long been acknowledged by those studying the syntactic structure of language(s). Likewise, the psychological study of human language behaviour (e.g., comprehension, production, and acquisition) has traditionally worked from the assumptions that sentence comprehension comes down to constructing hierarchical phrase structure; that sentence production requires converting hierarchical structure into a linear (spoken or written) sequence of words; and that much of language acquisition requires a (possibly innate) notion of hierarchical composition.

However, the assumption that hierarchy is fundamental to human language behaviour is increasingly called into question. Although a growing number of empirical findings seem to support the non-hierarchical view, they remain distributed over different fields of science, forming a somewhat fragmented collection of pieces of evidence rather than a coherent body of research. Likewise, there are no overarching theories of how language may arise from sequential structure processing, let alone a coherent research paradigm or programme for addressing these questions.

This informal and interactive workshop aims at creating a research community for studying the extent to which language can be treated as (primarily) sequentially structured. It brings together linguists, psychologists, cognitive neuroscientists, and computer scientists to communicate and discuss the latest insights into the importance and implications of the sequential structure of language; to outline a research programme for uncovering how and when sequential structure underlies language phenomena; and to establish novel collaborations among participants – in particular between researchers from different disciplines.


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