Alexis Wellwood with Rachel Dudley, Chris Vogel and Brendan Ritchie · [Practice talk / PHLING] Talking about causing events
Questions about the nature of the relationship between language and extralinguistic cognition are old, but only recently has a new view emerged that allows for the systematic investigation of claims about linguistic structure, based on how it is understood or utilized outside of the language system. Our paper represents a case study for this interaction in the domain of event semantics. We adopt a transparency thesis about the relationship between linguistic structure and extralinguistic cognition, investigating whether different syntactic structures can differentially recruit the visual causal percept. A prominent analysis of causative verbs like move suggests reference to two distinct events that are causally linked, whereas non-causative verbs like push do not so refer. In our study, we present English speakers with simple scenes that either do/do not support the perception of a causal link, and vary (between subjects) a one-sentence instruction for the evaluation of the scene. Preliminary results suggest that causative constructions in the linguist’s sense are judged true by competent speakers of English significantly more when cause-based judgments of the scene obtain than do non-causative constructions. Implications for the “new view” and future directions are discussed.