Monday, 1 December 2014

Upcoming languagey talks in the COGS seminar

In Jubilee 144 on Tuesdays at 4:00-5:30.  All welcome!

2 DecemberThe Cultural Origins of StructureSimon Kirby  University of Edinburgh

Language is striking in its systematic structure at all levels of description. By exhibiting combinatoriality and compositionality, each utterance in a language does not stand alone, but rather exhibits a network of dependencies on the other utterances in that language. Where does this structure come from? Why is language systematic, and where else might we expect to find this kind of systematicity in nature?
In this talk, I will propose a simple hypothesis that systematic structure is the inevitable result of a suite of behaviours being transmitted by iterated learning. Iterated learning is a mechanism of cultural evolution in which behaviours persist by being learned through observation of that behaviour in another individual who acquired it in the same way. I will survey a wide range of lab studies of iterated learning, in which the cultural evolution of sets of behaviours is experimentally recreated. These studies include everything from artificial language learning tasks and sign language experiments, to more abstract behaviours like slide whistle imitation and sequence learning, and have recently even been extended to other species. I will conclude by suggesting that these cultural evolution experiments provide clear predictions about where we should expect to see structure in behaviour, and what form that structure might take.

9 December
Social media and soft power: Influence of citizens and perceptions of cultural icons
Jon Oberlander  University of Edinburgh

Social networking services like Twitter and Facebook see surges in activity around major events, whether they are considered political (like upheavals in the Ukraine), cultural (like the Oscars ceremony), sporting (like the Commonwealth Games), or all of the above (like the London Olympics 2012 Opening Ceremony). People like to identify “trending topics”, and Twitter’s hashtag mechanism makes this relatively easy. But to gain a deeper understanding of what is going on when the social media world goes wild, we need to analyse publicly available information about the messages being exchanged, and their content. Working with the British Council, we have recently been looking at certain types of insight we can derive from Twitter by text mining, combining geo-parsing, named entity recognition and sentiment analysis. We examine both cultural-sporting events, and political upheavals, and discuss both the influence of UK-based social networkers, and the perception of UK-related cultural entities.

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