Language – Fall 2014

Language pervades human life, significantly affecting art, emotions, family, politics, scholarship, and social institutions. Language is also multifaceted and the object of diverse disciplines, including the humanities, the social sciences, the physical sciences, and the fine arts. The goal of this semseter’s Clarke Forum theme is to strive for a synoptic view of language that crosses disciplines. In seeking to understand language, we shall pursue three main questions: (1) How do we acquire/develop language? (2) Are humans the only organisms that have language? (3) How is language related to thought? We will consider these questions systematically and in depth, from both a theoretical and an applied point of view, bringing together a wide range of interests in the Dickinson community.

John Baugh

Baugh Final PosterProfessor, Washington University

Linguistic Relativism: Language, Culture, and Thought

Thursday, November 20, 2014
Stern Center, Great Room, 7 p.m.

This presentation draws upon evidence from linguistics, anthropology, and psychology to explore the ways in which human language and corresponding thought processes have been influenced by cultural circumstances.

This event is sponsored by the Clarke Forum for Contemporary Issues and co-sponsored by the Departments of English, American Studies, Spanish and Portuguese.  This program is also part of the Clarke Forum’s semester theme, Language.

BaughBiography (provided by the speaker)

John Baugh is the Margaret Bush Wilson Professor in Arts & Sciences and former director of African and African American studies at Washington University in St. Louis, where he holds academic appointments in psychology, anthropology, education, English, linguistics, African and African American studies, American culture studies, philosophy-neuroscience-psychology and urban studies. Prior to his tenure at Washington University, Dr. Baugh taught at Stanford University, The University of Texas at Austin, and Swarthmore College.

Dr. Baugh has published award-winning books in the fields of anthropology, education, legal affairs, linguistics, sociology and urban studies. His work bridges theoretical and applied linguistics, with particular attention to matters of policy and social equity in the fields of education, medicine, and the law. He has conducted extensive research regarding the social stratification of linguistic diversity within the United States, Austria, Brazil, France, Hungary, South Africa, and the United Kingdom, and is actively engaged in ongoing research that examines the evolution and dissemination of English and other European languages in post-colonial contexts throughout the world.

Dr. Baugh is a past president of the American Dialect Society and is a member of the usage advisory committee for the American Heritage English Dictionary. He has also served as consultant on several documentary films related to American language and as an expert witness in court cases where matters of voice recognition and language attitudes have been central.

Dr. Baugh received his B.A. in speech and rhetoric at Temple University and his M.A. and Ph.D. in linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania. He currently sits on the boards of The Oracle Education Foundation, Raising a Reader, and Project Pericles.

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Video of the Lecture

Janet Astington

Astington PosterProfessor Emerita, University of Toronto

Why Language Matters for Theory of Mind

Thursday, November 6, 2014
Stern Center, Great Room, 7 p.m.

Astington will argue that language is critical in the development of theory of mind, which underlies human social interaction and self-awareness.

This event is sponsored by the Clarke Forum for Contemporary Issues and co-sponsored by the Departments of Psychology, Education and Philosophy.  This program is also part of the Clarke Forum’s semester theme, Language.

Astington JWBiography (provided by the speaker)

Janet Wilde Astington is professor emerita at the Institute of Child Study, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto, Canada. She was born in England and in 1966 immigrated to Canada where she taught high school science. She earned a Ph.D. in applied cognitive science from the University of Toronto in 1985 and then held a faculty position at the Institute of Child Study from 1990 until her retirement in 2012. She is married to John H. Astington (professor of English and drama, University of Toronto) and has two daughters and five grandchildren.

Astington played a central role in the development of the field of children’s theory of mind. She is author of The Child’s Discovery of the Mind (Harvard University Press, 1993), which has been translated into six different languages. She is editor or co-editor of four books, including Developing Theories of Mind (Cambridge University Press, 1988) and Why Language Matters for Theory of Mind (Oxford University Press, 2005). She has also published more than eighty book chapters and journal articles.

Astington was awarded the Delta Kappa Gamma Society International Educator’s Award (1994), the American Educational Research Association’s Raymond B. Cattell Early Career Award (1995), and a University of Toronto Connaught Research Fellowship (2001). She has held research grants from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada continuously from 1988 to 2012. She has also received funding from the Spencer Foundation and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

Astington’s research is in children’s theory of mind. This is the understanding of people as mental beings, each with his or her own mental states– such as beliefs, desires, intentions, and emotions. Theory of mind underlies the ability to understand human behaviors by thinking about what is in a person’s mind. We explain our own actions, as well as attempt to interpret and predict other people’s actions, by taking account of mental states. Consequently, theory of mind concerns central aspects of development, involving cognition, language, and social interaction.

Astington’s approach is socio-cultural, with a particular focus on the role of language in theory-of-mind development. Astington’s applied interests are pedagogical, such as in helping teachers use theory-of-mind research to develop materials and approaches that engage children in mindful learning.

Video of the Lecture

Dorit Bar-On

Bar-On PosterProfessor, University of Connecticut

Communicative Intentions and Origins of Meaning

Thursday, October 30, 2014
Stern Center, Great Room, 7 p.m.

What separates human linguistic communication from all forms of nonhuman animal communication and how could it have evolved? I argue that focusing on the role of communicative intention renders the evolutionary emergence of language more puzzling than it needs to be.

This event is sponsored by the Clarke Forum for Contemporary Issues and co-sponsored by the Departments of Biology, Philosophy, and Spanish and Portuguese.  This program is also part of the Clarke Forum’s semester theme, Language.

Biography (provided by the speaker)

Born in Israel, Dorit Bar-On received her B.A. from Tel Aviv University in philosophy and linguistics (summa cum laude), while also working as a radio producer and translator of fiction, poetry, aDorit Bar-On Photo from her Websitend philosophy.  She continued to study philosophy at UCLA and wrote her dissertation on the Indeterminacy of Translation.  Bar-On has published extensively on topics in philosophy of language and mind, epistemology, and metaethics.  In 2004, she published a book titled Speaking My Mind: Expression and Self-Knowledge (Oxford Clarendon Press).  Work on that book led to her interest in studying continuities between human and non-human communication.

Bar-On is a recipient of a collaborative research NSF grant (2009-2013) for “Expression, Communication, and Origins of Meaning”.  In 2010-11, she was a fellow at the National Humanities Center.  She has recently been selected as a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study, Berlin (Wiessenschaftskolleg zu Berlin) for 2015-16, where she will be working on a manuscript tentatively titled Expression, Action, and Meaning. She is currently a professor of philosophy at the University of Connecticut.

Campus-Only Viewing of the Lecture

Susan Carey

Carey PosterProfessor, Harvard University

Do Non-Linguistic Creatures Have a Language of Thought?

Thursday, October 9, 2014
Stern Center, Great Room, 7 p.m.

This lecture considers whether the minds of babies and nonhuman animals, on the one hand, and human adults, on the other, are fundamentally alike or radically different from each other.

This event is sponsored by the Clarke Forum for Contemporary Issues and co-sponsored by the Departments of Psychology, Education and Philosophy.  This program is also part of the Clarke Forum’s semester theme, Language.

susan_careyBiography (provided by the speaker)

Susan Carey is a professor at Harvard University, where she joined the psychology department in 2001, after having taught at MIT (24 years) and NYU (5 years).  She did her graduate work at Harvard, working with Jerome Bruner and Roger Brown.  She studies conceptual development. Over her whole career, she has worked on explaining how human beings, unique among animals, create the huge conceptual repertoire that characterizes adult thought.  Only humans can think about cancer, global warming, infinity, wisdom, moral obligations…   Her work on this broad problem combines historical case studies, animal cognition studies, but mainly studies with human infants, children and adults.  Her case studies include mathematical concepts, scientific concepts, and social/moral concepts.