The Life & Mind Seminar Network

Seminar: The Evolution of Grounded Spatial Language

Posted in Seminars by Tom Froese on October 21, 2011

The next L&M seminar in Japan will take place on Tuesday morning, Nov. 1, in Room 107, Building 16, at the Komaba campus of the University of Tokyo. We are pleased to have Michael Spranger from Sony CSL Paris.

The Evolution of Grounded Spatial Language – Evidence from Robotic Models

Michael Spranger
Language group
Sony CSL Paris

Spatial language is a rich tool for humans to direct attention of interlocutors to objects in the environment. Interestingly, different cultures have found very different means for referring to objects using spatial properties. For example, there are a number of cultures which exclusively use absolute spatial relations such as ‘uphill’ and ‘downhill’ even for proximate objects. As such examples show, the cross-cultural variation of spatial language is not only syntactic, i.e. the words and their grammatical relations that are used, but also conceptual, in the sense of the conceptual construal of reality a language supports. This talk shows a series of experiments using humanoid robots which try to shed light on how different conventions for spatial language can emerge in artificial communities and what are driving forces for particular systems to self-organize. In the talk I take a cultural evolution perspective and argue that we can explain spatial language traits found in human languages using concepts from biology applied to the level of language change and cultural negotiation of behavior. Because of the central nature of spatial cognition to many aspects of human intelligence, aspects related to social cognition, general cognition, language production and parsing, as well as semantics are touched.


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