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Cogn Sci. 2017 Jan;41(1):70-101. doi: 10.1111/cogs.12332. Epub 2016 Feb 29.

Language Reflects "Core" Cognition: A New Theory About the Origin of Cross-Linguistic Regularities.

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The Normal Superior School (ENS)/French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), Jean Nicod Institute/Laboratory for the Psychology of Perception (LPP).


The underlying structures that are common to the world's languages bear an intriguing connection with early emerging forms of "core knowledge" (Spelke & Kinzler, 2007), which are frequently studied by infant researchers. In particular, grammatical systems often incorporate distinctions (e.g., the mass/count distinction) that reflect those made in core knowledge (e.g., the non-verbal distinction between an object and a substance). Here, I argue that this connection occurs because non-verbal core knowledge systematically biases processes of language evolution. This account potentially explains a wide range of cross-linguistic grammatical phenomena that currently lack an adequate explanation. Second, I suggest that developmental researchers and cognitive scientists interested in (non-verbal) knowledge representation can exploit this connection to language by using observations about cross-linguistic grammatical tendencies to inspire hypotheses about core knowledge.


Cognitive development; Core knowledge; Cross-linguistic regularities; Visual perception

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