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Cognition and Language Development

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The Development of Spatial Representation and Reasoning

Spatial competence is a central aspect of human adaptation. To understand human cognitive functioning, we must understand how people code the locations of things, how they navigate in the world, and how they represent and mentally manipulate spatial information. Until recently three approaches have dominated thinking about spatial development. Followers of Piaget claim that infants are born without knowledge of space or a conception of permanent objects that occupy space. They develop such knowledge through experience and manipulation of their environment. Nativists suggest that the essential aspects of spatial understanding are innate and that biological maturation of specific brain areas can account for whatever aspects of spatial development are not accounted for at birth. The Vygotskan approach emphasizes the cultural transmission of spatial skills.

Nora Newcombe and Janellen Huttenlocher argue for an interactionist approach to spatial development that incorporates and integrates essential insights of the classic three approaches. They show how biological preparedness interacts with the spatial environment that infants encounter after birth to create spatial development and mature spatial competence. Topics covered include spatial coding during infancy and childhood; the early origins of coding distance in continuous space, of coding location with respect to distal external landmarks, and of hierarchical combination of information; the mental processes that operate on stored spatial information; spatial information as encoded in models and maps; and spatial information as encoded in language. In conclusion, the authors discuss their account of spatial development in relation to various approaches to cognitive development in other domains, including quantitative development, theory of mind, and language acquisition.

Typology and Process in Concept Structuring

In this two-volume set Leonard Talmy defines the field of cognitive semantics. He approaches the question of how language organizes conceptual material both at a general level and by analyzing a crucial set of particular conceptual domains: space and time, motion and location, causation and force interaction, and attention and viewpoint. Talmy maintains that these are among the most fundamental parameters by which language structures conception. By combining these conceptual domains into an integrated whole, Talmy shows, we advance our understanding of the overall conceptual and semantic structure of natural language. Volume 1 examines the fundamental systems by which language shapes concepts. Volume 2 sets forth typologies according to which concepts are structured and the processes by which they are structured.

Foundations of Social Cognition

Social interaction requires social cognition—the ability to perceive, interpret, and explain the actions of others. This ability fundamentally relies on the concepts of intention and intentionality. For example, people distinguish sharply between intentional and unintentional behavior; identify the intentions underlying others' behavior; explain completed actions with reference to intentions, beliefs, and desires; and evaluate the social worth of actions using the concepts of intentionality and responsibility.

Intentions and Intentionality highlights the roles these concepts play in social cognition. Taking an interdisciplinary approach, it offers cutting-edge work from researchers in cognitive, developmental, and social psychology and in philosophy, primatology, and law. It includes both conceptual and empirical contributions.

Concept Structuring Systems

In this two-volume set Leonard Talmy defines the field of cognitive semantics. He approaches the question of how language organizes conceptual material both at a general level and by analyzing a crucial set of particular conceptual domains: space and time, motion and location, causation and force interaction, and attention and viewpoint. Talmy maintains that these are among the most fundamental parameters by which language structures conception. By combining these conceptual domains into an integrated whole, Talmy shows, we advance our understanding of the overall conceptual and semantic structure of natural language. Volume 1 examines the fundamental systems by which language shapes concepts. Volume 2 sets forth typologies according to which concepts are structured and the processes by which they are structured.

Edited by Brian Scholl

One of the most important and controversial topics in the field of visual attention is the nature of the units of attentional selection. Traditional models have characterized attention in spatial terms, as a "spotlight" that moves around the visual field, applying processing resources to whatever falls within that spatial region. Recent models of attention, in contrast, suggest that in some cases the underlying units of selection are discrete visual objects and that attention may be limited by the number of objects that can be simultaneously selected.

Objects and Attention explores the idea that attention and objecthood are intimately and importantly related. In addition to reviewing the evidence for object-based attention and exploring what can "count" as an object of attention, it examines how such issues relate to other sensory modalities, such as auditory objects of attention, and to other areas of cognitive science, such as the infant’s object concept. The book has applications to work in experimental cognitive psychology, neuropsychology and cognitive neuroscience, philosophy of mind, developmental psychology, computer modeling, and the psychology of audition.

This wide-ranging collection of essays is inspired by the memory of the cognitive psychologist John Macnamara, whose influential contributions to language and concept acquisition have provided the basis for numerous research programs. The areas covered by the essays include the foundations of language and thought, congnitive and linguistic development, and mathematical approaches to cognition.

How do children learn that the word "dog" refers not to all four-legged animals, and not just to Ralph, but to all members of a particular species? How do they learn the meanings of verbs like "think," adjectives like "good," and words for abstract entities such as "mortgage" and "story"? The acquisition of word meaning is one of the fundamental issues in the study of mind.

According to Paul Bloom, children learn words through sophisticated cognitive abilities that exist for other purposes. These include the ability to infer others' intentions, the ability to acquire concepts, an appreciation of syntactic structure, and certain general learning and memory abilities. Although other researchers have associated word learning with some of these capacities, Bloom is the first to show how a complete explanation requires all of them. The acquisition of even simple nouns requires rich conceptual, social, and linguistic capacities interacting in complex ways.

This book requires no background in psychology or linguistics and is written in a clear, engaging style. Topics include the effects of language on spatial reasoning, the origin of essentialist beliefs, and the young child's understanding of representational art. The book should appeal to general readers interested in language and cognition as well as to researchers in the field.

Essays in Honor of Jacques Mehler
Edited by Emmanuel Dupoux

In the early 1960s, the bold project of the emerging field of cognition was to put the human mind under the scrutiny of rational inquiry, through the conjoined efforts of philosophy, linguistics, computer science, psychology, and neuroscience. Forty years later, cognitive science is a flourishing academic field. The contributions to this collection, written in honor of Jacques Mehler, a founder of the field of psycholinguistics, assess the progress of cognitive science. The questions addressed include: What have we learned or not learned about language, brain, and cognition? Where are we now? Where have we failed? Where have we succeeded? The book is organized into four sections in addition to the introduction: thought, language, neuroscience, and brain and biology. Some chapters cut across several sections, attesting to the cross-disciplinary nature of the field.

Since the 1970s the cognitive sciences have offered multidisciplinary ways of understanding the mind and cognition. The MIT Encyclopedia of the Cognitive Sciences (MITECS) is a landmark, comprehensive reference work that represents the methodological and theoretical diversity of this changing field.

At the core of the encyclopedia are 471 concise entries, from Acquisition and Adaptationism to Wundt and X-bar Theory. Each article, written by a leading researcher in the field, provides an accessible introduction to an important concept in the cognitive sciences, as well as references or further readings. Six extended essays, which collectively serve as a roadmap to the articles, provide overviews of each of six major areas of cognitive science: Philosophy; Psychology; Neurosciences; Computational Intelligence; Linguistics and Language; and Culture, Cognition, and Evolution. For both students and researchers, MITECS will be an indispensable guide to the current state of the cognitive sciences.

Reconciling Darwin and Chomsky with the Human Brain

A machine for language? Certainly, say the neurophysiologists, busy studying the language specializations of the human brain and trying to identify their evolutionary antecedents. Linguists such as Noam Chomsky talk about machinelike "modules" in the brain for syntax, arguing that language is more an instinct (a complex behavior triggered by simple environmental stimuli) than an acquired skill like riding a bicycle.

But structured language presents the same evolutionary problems as feathered forelimbs for flight: you need a lot of specializations to fly even a little bit. How do you get them, if evolution has no foresight and the intermediate stages do not have intermediate payoffs? Some say that the Darwinian scheme for gradual species self-improvement cannot explain our most valued human capability, the one that sets us so far above the apes, language itself.

William Calvin and Derek Bickerton suggest that other evolutionary developments, not directly related to language, allowed language to evolve in a way that eventually promoted a Chomskian syntax. They compare these intermediate behaviors to the curb-cuts originally intended for wheelchair users. Their usefulness was soon discovered by users of strollers, shopping carts, rollerblades, and so on. The authors argue that reciprocal altruism and ballistic movement planning were "curb-cuts" that indirectly promoted the formation of structured language. Written in the form of a dialogue set in Bellagio, Italy, Lingua ex Machina presents an engaging challenge to those who view the human capacity for language as a winner-take-all war between Chomsky and Darwin.

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