Interactive repair and the foundations of language

We have a new paper out in which we argue that the robustness and flexibility of human language is underpinned by a machinery of interactive repair. Repair is normally thought of as a kind of remedial procedure. We argue its import is more fundamental. Simply put (and oversimplifying only a bit), we wouldn’t have complex language if it weren’t for interactive repair.

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How should descriptive grammars cover interjections?

Interjections are, in Felix Ameka’s memorable formulation, “the universal yet neglected part of speech” (1992). They are rarely the subject of historical, typological or comparative research in linguistics, and they are notably underrepresented in descriptive grammars. As grammars are the main source of data for typologists, this is of course a perfect example of a self-reinforcing feedback loop. How can we break this trend?

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Sawing off the branch you’re sitting on

There is a minor industry in speech science and NLP devoted to detecting and removing disfluencies. In some of our recent work we’re showing this adversely impacts voice user interfaces. Here I review a case where the hemming and hawing is the point — and where removing it adversely impacts our ability to make sense of what people do in interaction.

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At the smallest scale of human interaction, prosocial behavior follows cross-culturally shared principles

We have a new paper out in which we find that people overwhelmingly like to help one another, independent of differences in language, culture or environment. This is a surprising finding from the perspective of anthropological and economic research, which has tended to foreground differences in how people work together and share resources.

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New paper – What do we really measure when we measure iconicity?

It’s a common misconception that iconicity or sound symbolism is universal, perpetuated in part by the almost universal success of famous experiments involving pseudowords like bouba and kiki. But iconicity in natural languages is much more messy than paradigms like bouba-kiki suggest. Which begs the question, what do we really measure when we measure iconicity? This is what our new paper investigates.

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