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How Words Shape Human Cognition
Tuesday, May 16, 2017 - 18:45
A common assumption in psychology and linguistics is that words map onto pre-existing meanings. I will argue that this view is mistaken and that words play a much more central role in creating meaning than is generally acknowledged. In the first part of the talk, I will present a range of empirical evidence for the functions of language beyond communication, focusing on categorization and visual perception. On the presented view, many of the unique aspects of human cognition stem from the power of words to flexibly create categories from perceptual representations, allowing language to act as a high-level control system for the mind. In the second part, I will discuss the consequences of adopting this view for thinking about the evolution of language and culture.
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Evening class information
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Next evening class
From time immemorial, numerous illiterate tribes have created, through the impossible terrain of the Sino-Tibetan Marches, fiercely independent kingdoms which thrived until the early 20th century. Many of them pledged allegiance to the Chinese Empire, as did the little-studied matriarchal “Nu Er Guos” queendoms described in the Chinese Annals until 742. Today, these regions are less isolated, but in spite of the Chinese influence, polyandry is making a come-back. Marriage-less matrilineal societies still flourish in a few remote valleys and courtship customs implying that women would cherry-pick among pretenders have only recently disappeared. Could this unusual state of affairs be the remains of these ancient matriarchal queendoms?
Or is it also that the extreme remoteness of these realms has preserved age-old traditions once common elsewhere? Both Chinese and Greek earliest texts stated that people “knew their mothers but not their fathers.”
I will argue that, contrary to current western androcentric assumptions, patriarchy is not timeless and the nuclear family is not universal. Rigorous ethnographic scholarship demonstrates that around the globe humans have adopted many different reproductive strategies, all of which were successful and many of which endured until today despite the spread of monotheistic religions and globalization. Time has come for academia to base its claims on facts rather than theories whose primary purpose was, and still is, to justify the status quo.