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Differences in language structures as a guide to studying differences in cognitive representations: articles and gender


The issue of relation between language and cognition is again, after decades of a relative abandonment, in the centre of scientific interest. Results of recent studies suggest that people from different cultures may differ more in their cognition than previously thought, and that language does indeed provide us with good clues as to where to look for those differences. In most research language is even indicated as a causal force which, by influencing our cognition from early childhood, brings about differences in our habits of categorisation, processes of remembering, and conceptualisation of basic cognitive domains such as time, or spatial relations.

The main aim of this project is to contribute to this line of research: to investigate new possible areas o f differences, to develop new research methods, and, on a more theoretical level to deepen the understanding of mechanisms involved in the emergence of such differences using dynamical systems framework. A series of experiments has been designed, in which cognitive correlates of two differences between Polish and Italian will be studied: gender and articles.

The choice of research topic was dictated by: clear structural differences between Polish and Italian, the social importance of the gender category, an d the fact that articles are absent in Polish and other Slavic languages and are very difficult to learn by speakers of those languages. The studies would be conducted at the University of Bologna and Scuola Superiore di Studi Umanistici, Italy, where the applicant can benefit from extensive theoretical, methodological and empirical background of Prof. Nicoletta Caramelli in research on conceptual structure. At the theoretical level, research in dynamic and symbolic nature of language in the cultural context would be aided by participating in the activities of SSSUB as well as the consultations with its director, Prof. Umberto Eco.

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