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Culture, language and cognition: a methodological and theoretical exploration with reference to spatial concepts

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  • UserChris Sinha (University of Hunan, University of East Anglia)
  • ClockThursday 15 October 2020, 16:30-18:00
  • HouseOnline.

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Part 1: Interdisciplinarity, multiple methods and reflexivity in the cultural linguistic laboratory

Cultural and linguistic variation can be seen as providing “natural laboratory” environments for investigating both variation and constraints on variation in the human mind, human development and human natural languages. The methodological ideal is often to employ converging methods to attack the same problem. Field investigators thus borrow ethnographic methods from anthropology, and experimental methods from psychology. However, it also has to be recognized that the use of converging methods, although powerful and often highly productive, can also lead to problems of “uneasy fit”. Not only do some proponents of quantitative methods denigrate qualitative methods (and, rather less frequently, vice-versa); but also converging methods may actually produce diverging (and puzzling) results. Part of the problem is that the very notion of replicability in experimental method is antithetical to cultural comparative field research. The “same” experimentally controlled situation (materials, instructions, procedures) will have different meanings in different cultural contexts. The recognition of this by cultural developmental psychologists in the 1970s prompted the methodological call by Michael Cole and others for ecological validity, and the recognition that experiments are social encounters, not scientific “neutral ground”. I argue that “taking experiments to the field” requires a reflexive stance on the part of the researcher in just the same way as does the use of qualitative methodologies. In the following part, I explore these vexed questions of methodology, validity and generalizability with reference to my own and my colleagues’ work.

Part 2: Extended embodiment, culture and the conceptualization of space

In this part, I explore the notion of extended embodiment and its consequences for our understanding of the conceptualization of space. Embodiment extends beyond the corporeal human body, encompassing the humanly made world of cultural artefacts, amongst which should be counted language itself (Sinha 2015). Language and other artefacts are the bearers of human cultures, and broadening the scope of embodiment theory “beyond the skin” reinforces the cultural dimension of cognitive linguistic theories. I build upon my cross-linguistic and cultural comparative research into the cognitive and linguistic domain of space (and in particular the development of spatial language and cognition) to demonstrate how extended embodiment integrates cognitive and cultural perspectives in linguistics and cognitive science (Sinha and Jensen de López 2000).

This talk is part of the Cambridge Linguistics Forum series.

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