Michael Wagner (PI) and Duane Watson (Vanderbilt University, collaborator) were awarded a new SSHRC Insight Grant. The project is titled ‘The incremental mind: Prosody as a window into the gradual formation of a sentence while speaking” –– congratulations!
Summary: This project proposes to use sentence prosody, i.e., the precise way a sentences are pronounced in real time, as a window into how the human mind processes language. Sentence prosody reflects how we break down complex messages into more manageable processing ‘chunks’ and gradually compose complex semantic meanings. Looking at prosody allows us to better understand a crucial difference between natural language and formal languages: The linguistic detail of a complex sentence, such as “Ruby went climbing after she had finished her homework”, is arguably never represented as a whole in our minds at any given point in time. In order to process its meaning, our mind has to incrementally process the different chunks in this sentence. Language, therefore, is not just recursive (like, say, symbolic logic), but it is also inherently incremental. Current linguistic theories, however, are generally static, and the time-flow of how sentences are assembled in real-time is sometimes explicitly excluded from study. The present research project, by contrast, assumes that we can learn more about how grammar works by looking at real-time plannning, since grammar is directly involved in the process of facilitating incremental structure building.