Monday November 18, 2013
SSM 117 (Wawona)

Dr. Kevin Holmes, UC Berkeley

Title: Exploring the language-thought interface beyond the level of words

Abstract: How is knowledge organized in the human mind? A common assumption in cognitive science is that such organization is most directly revealed by the meanings of words. In this talk, I will argue that other aspects of a language’s semantic system may be equally, if not more, informative about conceptual organization. In experiments spanning the domains of objects, spatial relations, and color, I will show that semantic distinctions that transcend individual word meanings yield effects of categorical perception. Such effects provide evidence for the conceptual salience of the distinctions in question. I will also present a related line of work suggesting that the use of spatial language triggers the mental schematization of space—an effect of language on thought whereby language makes certain types of physical knowledge more accessible than they would be otherwise. I will discuss the implications of both sets of findings for ongoing debates on the nature of the language-thought interface.

Bio: Dr. Holmes completed his Ph.D. in Psychology at Emory University in 2012, where he worked with Phillip Wolff and Stella Lourenco. He is currently a postdoctoral fellow with Terry Regier at the University of California, Berkeley. His research interests include the relation between language and thought, spatial and quantitative representation, and perceptual simulation.

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