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Grasping Discourses. The Role of Mental Simulation in Linguistic Comprehension and Production Processes

ESF ROP Cooperation Project with the University of Calabria
Postdoctoral Grant: Dr. Dr. Erica Cosentino

Topic of this research project is the analysis of cognitive devises that are involved in linguistic processes at the level of discourse elaboration.

A starting point is that a plausible theory of discourse functioning has to express a criterion according to which it becomes possible to distinguish between a discourse and a casual set of sentences. What marks the difference is coherence, namely the result of the interaction between discourse and speakers, who evaluate the discourse as “making sense”. Therefore, a plausible explanation of discourse processes has to clarify how speakers assess coherence. From this point of view, standard cognitive theory of language functioning seems to be largely insufficient. Classical cognitive science has been characterized by an association with the computational theory of mind, which until not long ago has been considered the only plausible explanation of the mind from a scientific point of view. Although this association has produced highly significant results, it has also limited the scope of scientific psychology. In particular, computational theory limits language study to those processes that fit into a syntactic view of the elaboration mechanisms. Discourse processes are not included.

Aim of this project is to put forward the hypothesis that the ability to produce and understand discourses in a coherent way is based on individuals’ capacity to simulate temporal, spatial and social scenarios. The role of simulation in discourse comprehension and production processes is the key to rethink some issues that remained in the classical perspective out of the reach of the empirical research. But this implies a significant change in perspective toward an alternative grounded model of cognitive architecture.

Reference: ROP Calabria ESF 2007/2013 IV M2 D.5

Funded by the European Science Foundation (ESF)