Linguistic Diversity Meets The Brain: Future directions in the language sciences

Workshop at the Department of Comparative Linguistics, University of Zurich on 15th–17th May 2017

Linguistic typologists and psycho- and neurolinguists alike have advocated the potential of language processing (encompassing language production, comprehension and acquisition) to explain the distribution of grammatical structures across time and space.

Discussions focus on how the diverse grammatical structures of the world’s languages may constrain and inform psycho- and neurolinguistic theorizing on language processing  and language acquisition. Specifically, the questions are whether and how languages’ grammars might adapt to (neurobiological) constraints on cognitive processing architectures and external pressures on the one hand and whether and how the different grammatical properties of linguistic systems might afford the application of different processing and learning strategies on the other hand.

Unfortunately, and in spite of this glaring coincidence of interests, little scientific interaction between these fields has occurred, in part due to the considerable divergence in scientific communication and methodology that separates them. As a consequence, the access linguists and cognitive (neuro-)scientists have to each other’s domain of research is limited, biased and often outdated, despite notable exceptions.

This workshop aims to fill this gap by bringing together leading researchers from the fields of linguistic typology and cognitive (neuro-)science of language, who already have a record in transdisciplinary collaboration. During the workshop, we will discuss how both of these fields could interact in synergy to explore the links between grammatical diversity in linguistics systems, cognitive processing architectures and learning mechanisms.