Causality in the language sciences

Abstracts of the posters

Gonzalo Castillo
Universitat de Barcelona, Spain

The growth of functional complexity in speech

Aaron Ecay
University of Pennsylvania/University of York, USA

Disentangling style and priming using Generalized Additive Models

Ramon Ferrer-i-Cancho
Universtat Politècnica de Catalunya, Spain

How to constrain the set of possible causal explanations

Martin Gerlach
Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems, Germany

Information-theoretic approach to measure vocabulary distance: How localized is a book in time?

Authors: Martin Gerlach, Francesc Font-Clos, and Eduardo G. Altmann

In this work we investigate the temporal and author variation in the usage of language. We quantify the difference in the vocabularies by looking at the statistics of word frequencies in written text and applying tools rooted in information theory (e.g. mutual information, Jensen-Shannon divergence). This not only yields a well-defined measure capturing how much information is shared between two different (samples of) text, but also allows for a calculation of the expected fluctuations in order to assess the significance of these differences. We use these tools to compare individuals books to a reference corpus with yearly resolution (Google n-gram database). We confirm a good matching of our results with the publication date of the books and we
develop measures that quantify how innovative the vocabulary of individual books and authors were.

Iulia Grosman
Université catholique de Louvain, Belgium

Causality and converging evidence: overcoming methodological monism with corpus analysis and experimental approaches

Leonardo Lancia
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Germany

Complex coordinative patterns in speech production

Evelina Leivada
Universitat de Barcelona, Spain

On causality and comorbidity: A view from the ‘schizophrenia-blindness-language’ triangle

Natalia Levshina
F.R.S.-FNRS, Université catholique de Louvain, Belgium

Testing iconicity: A quantitative study of causative constructions based on a parallel corpus of film subtitles

Marek Nagy
Palacký University, Czech Republic

Against causality: science of language by Prague Linguistic Circle

Michał B. Paradowski
University of Warsaw, Poland

Complexity in language phenomena

Throughout history language sciences have been dealing with numerous phenomena that are either inherently complex/dynamic systems, or which display typical qualities of such systems. Within an individual, one can bring to mind perceptual dynamics and categorisation in speech, the emergence of phonological templates, or word and sentence processing; across society, think variations and typology, the rise of new grammatical constructions, semantic bleaching, language evolution in general, and the spread and competition of both individual expressions, and entire languages.
A representative handful of language phenomena will be depicted which have been known to exhibit such properties as hysteresis, phase transition, bifurcation, attractor states, or power law distribution. The multifaceted dynamism and complexity will also be discussed of the process of language acquisition, highlighting the importance of adopting designs with different timescales in order to trace language development as a process of change over time, of the utility of time-series analyses, and of the ability to determine optimal temporal integration windows, e.g. in analyses of dynamic motifs in human communication.

Nancy Retzlaff
University of Leipzig, Germany

Cognate identification from word alignments: algorithms and scoring

Carmen Saldana
University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom

The cultural evolution of functional morphology in an Iterated Learning experiment

Estefania Santacreu Vasut
ESSEC Business School, France

Gender in Language and Economics: Is the epidemiological approach the road to causality?

Kevin Stadler
The University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom

Causality, arbitrariness, and a view from diachrony

As has been pointed out, the quest to understand the causal origin of
linguistic structures is ultimately an investigation into the
diachronic processes that shape languages across time. Consequently,
new approaches to causal inference can be informed and strengthened by
considering insights on the nature of language change from the long
tradition of diachronic studies. In this poster I want to investigate
how the concept of arbitrariness, as well as the sporadic nature and
so-called 'actuation problem' of language change relate to causal
explanations of language. I will try to argue that these central
linguistic tenets call into question whether causal explanations of
language are possible, or even desirable. Rather than completely
discarding the role of causality in language, I hope to show that much
could be gained from studying the inverse (but related) problem, i.e.
from identifying and characterising the mechanisms which keep
languages from becoming completely determined by their environment. A
general understanding of the dynamics of linguistic changes would seem
to be an important prerequisite for making links between particular
changes and their underlying causes, particularly in terms of
identifying the exact nature of 'causal triggers' of change.


Date and Location

April 13 - 15, 2015
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Deutscher Platz 6
04103 Leipzig
see travel instructions

Organizing Committee

  • Damián Blasi, MPI for Mathematics in the Sciences and MPI for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig (Germany)
  • Jürgen Jost, MPI for Mathematics in the Sciences, Leipzig (Germany)
  • Peter Stadler, Leipzig University, Interdisciplinary Centre for Bioinformatics (Germany)
  • Russell Gray, MPI for Human History, Jena (Germany)
  • Bernard Comrie, MPI for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig (Germany)
  • Stephen C. Levinson, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen (Netherlands)
  • Nihat Ay, MPI for Mathematics in the Sciences, Leipzig (Germany)
  • Sean Roberts, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen (Netherlands)
  • Leonardo Lancia, MPI for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig (Germany)

External Scientific Committee

  • Ewa Dabrowska, University of Northumbria, Newcastle upon Tyne (United Kingdom)
  • Nick Enfield, University of Sydney, Sydney (Australia)
  • Simon Greenhill, Australian National University, Canberra (Australia)
  • Martin Haspelmath, MPI for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig (Germany)
  • Steve Piantadosi, University of Rochester, Rochester (USA)
  • Maria Polinsky, Harvard University, Cambridge (USA)
  • Søren Wichmann, MPI for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig (Germany)

Conference email

To contact the organizers please use this email address.

Administrative Contact

Antje Vandenberg
MPI for Mathematics in the Sciences
Contact by Email

18.05.2017, 09:13