Andries Coetzee: Radically Individualized Linguistic Competence (CogFest 2018)

September 6, 2017
Friday, April 6, 2018 - 3:55pm
103 Oxley
Andries Coetzee

"Radically Individualized Linguistic Competence"

The phonetics/phonology research tradition of the past five or six decades tended to treat languages as mostly invariant systems that can be subjected to description and analysis (e.g., the syllable structure of Language X, the acoustics of sibilants in Language Y, etc.). Recent years, however, have seen an increased move towards recognizing variation between individual language users, even within the same speech community. In this talk, I argue that we need to broaden our focus from languages as undifferentiated, invariant systems to include the communities that speak these languages, as well as the individual members of these communities. Such a broader focus will result in a fuller understanding of the human capacity for language.

I review three studies from the Michigan Phonetics/Phonology Laboratory showing how a focus on average community patterns of variation can result in missing important generalisations: (i) post-nasal devoicing in Tswana, (ii) plosive devoicing/tonogenesis in Afrikaans, and (iii) anticipatory nasalization in Afrikaans. Based on these results, I propose extending the classic generative notion of “grammatical competence” to a broader concept of “linguistic competence”. This broader linguistic competence encompasses classic grammatical competence, but also all other aspects of an individual’s cognitive and social abilities that contribute towards how that individual performs linguistically. Since individuals can differ significantly in terms of most of the components that contribute to this broader linguistic competence, individual differences are expected rather than surprising.

A reception will follow the talk.

Note: This event is part of CogFest 2018, Friday - Saturday, April 6-7, which includes invited talks (in Psychology and Linguistics), an undergraduate poster session, and a film screening and panel discussion: "Please join us for this special two-day event to discuss ongoing research with the cognitive science community at Ohio State and interact with faculty and students from across the University who are exploring questions related to human cognition, including learning, memory, perception, language, and decision making, from behavioral, applied, computational modeling, and cognitive neuroscience perspectives." Please visit the CogFest program page for a detailed description of all events.

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