Monday December 9, 2013
KL 232 (Chancellor’s Conference Room)

Professor Mahesh Srinivasan, UC Berkeley

Title: The role of children’s cognitive biases in the structure of the lexicon: Cross-linguistic evidence from polysemy

Abstract: Many words in English shift in meaning, according to systematic patterns. For example, words can label animals and their meat (e.g., chicken, lamb, and fish), or artists and their produced works (e.g., Picasso, Tolstoy, Mozart). These patterns are also generative in the sense that they can be extended to new words: e.g., a name for a new animal can label its meat, as in “The dax was tasty.” In this talk, I’ll explore what factors might account for the structure of polysemy. Drawing on findings from children’s acquisition of polysemous words, as well as a new cross-linguistic survey of polysemy, I will suggest that different languages may develop broadly similar patterns of polysemy, because these patterns are adapted, over time, to be easily learnable for children, given their cognitive biases. This fit between the structure of polysemy and children’s concepts suggests that polysemy may facilitate the process of building a lexicon: by picking up on patterns, children can spontaneously infer new meanings for words.

Bio: Mahesh Srinivasan is an Assistant Professor at UC Berkeley, within the Department of Psychology. He completed his PhD at Harvard University in 2011 and was subsequently a research scientist at UC San Diego. Mahesh’s work focuses on interactions between language and cognitive development. His work has been published in numerous journals, including Cognition, Cognitive Psychology, and Developmental Science.

For more information contact Jeff Yoshimi at