Cognitive schemas, language contact and the bilingual mind: Insights from Northeast India

05 Apr 2024 03.30 PM - 05.30 PM Alumni, Current Students, Industry/Academic Partners, Prospective Students, Public
Organised by:
Francesco Cavallaro

In this talk I will outline how bilingualism feeds language contact and structural change via the sharing of cognitive schemas. In the sense adopted here, a cognitive schema is defined as the mental representation of a state of affairs that facilitates the replication and transfer of a grammatical construction from the grammar of one language to another in the mind of the bilingual. 

The role of cognitive schemas as agents of grammatical change can be demonstrated most cogently in the languages of Nagaland, a mountainous multilingual state of Northeast India where a lingua franca known as Nagamese is used as the language of wider communication by speakers of various Tibeto-Burman and Indo-Aryan languages. Evidence from recorded narrative data will demonstrate that cognitive schemas are most likely responsible for the spread of replicated case marking patterns from local Tibeto-Burman languages to Nagamese, and that this has triggered a change in the alignment pattern of Nagamese over the past fifty years. Additional data from other South Asian languages and Singaporean English will be compared to demonstrate the universal influence of cognitive schemas in language contact situations.

Alexander (Alec) Coupe is an Associate Professor of Linguistics and Multilingual Studies and Associate Chair (Research) in the School of Humanities. He is a field linguist with research interests in the languages of South Asia and Southeast Asia and has published work in the areas of language documentation, morphosyntactic analysis, linguistic typology, language contact, and multilingualism.