The Embodied Cognitive Bases for Classifier Systems (completed)
The project adopts a universal approach by including knowledge on the linguistic typology of nominal classifier languages while also investigating the biological basis for such concepts in brain structures shared by all humans.
The primary objective is to find out whether universally recurring grammatical categories as they are expressed in nominal classifier systems are instances of embodied conceptual knowledge. "Embodied" means that concepts are stored in modal brain areas corresponding to the senses that were active when they were learnt, whether through vision, touch, taste, physical interaction or emotion. To this end, speakers of classifier languages are subjected to neuroimaging experiments. The project addresses three aspects central to linguistics as well as neuropsychology: the divide of living vs. non-living things, how modal knowledge is merged in the brain to form unitary concepts, and whether modal brain activations are necessary to process abstract linguistic concepts.
This project looks at the possibility that abstract grammatical categories as they are expressed in classifier systems of nouns are instances of embodied conceptual knowledge. Such categories typically describe the noun's essence (an ANIMAL dog), its physical properties (a LONG pencil, a FLEXIBLE rope), or its function (a VEHICLE boat). "Embodied" means that concepts are stored and reactivated in modal brain areas corresponding to the senses that were active in the process of learning: through vision, touch, taste, physical interaction or emotion, or a combination of these. Modal knowledge is processed locally in disparate brain areas, e.g. visual knowledge quite distant from areas for moving one’s body parts. Knowing this, the first challenge regards how co-occurring modes of learning are merged in the brain to form unitary concepts.
Is there a central abstraction area in the brain that after learning stores concepts irrespective of the manner in which they were learnt? If so, what function does reactivation of neurons in modal areas have for processing concepts – is it redundant or crucial for understanding? The project also looks at the contribution of shape, motion and emotion in knowing about living vs. non-living things. Evidence from grammars and brain-damaged patients have independently shown that this notion is gradient (human > animal, etc). Neuroimaging evidence on these categories will reveal what brain areas support their knowledge and increase understanding of meaning-impairment. Likewise, the importance of understanding a central vs. distributed representation of knowledge will affect how we think about treatments for knowledge and language disabled people, since we will understand better the importance of manner of learning for subsequent storage. It will also prove or disprove embodied cognition as a theory applying equally to abstract and concrete concepts. Finally, interactional knowledge systems are relevant to programming in robotics. '
The Research Council of Norway (FRIHUMSAM - Researcher project) 2013 - 2017.