Events

A standard assumption within psycholinguistics is that the act of speaking begins with the preverbal, conceptual apprehension of an event or state of affairs that the speaker intends to talk about. Nevertheless, the way conceptual representations are formed prior to speaking is not well understood. In this talk I present results from a long-standing, interdisciplinary research program that addresses the nature of conceptual representations, their interface with linguistic semantics and pragmatics, and their role during language production in both children and adults. Focusing on the domain of events, I show that both the representational units of event cognition and the way they combine reveal sensitivity to abstract underlying structure that is often homologous to the structure of events in language. This abstract event structure can predict otherwise unexplained similarities in the way children and adults across language communities apprehend and process events in non-linguistic tasks. I also show that conceptualizing an event during speech planning further depends on both language-specific semantic factors and on language-general pragmatic assessments of the needs and knowledge of the speaker’s conversational partner. I conclude by sketching implications of this framework for future research on how preverbal thought is transformed into language.