Department of Education lecture
To English speakers, the distinctions between "blue" and "green" or "hand" and "arm" seem obvious. Of course these things exist independently of language; and language merely captures these pre-existing categories. But looking at languages other than English shows these categories are not as obvious as they first appear. Across diverse domains from the perception of colours and smells to acts of cutting and breaking, we find considerable diversity in how languages divide up the world into words. This diversity has important implications for language learning and teaching. But more importantly this diversity serves as a fundamental lesson for us in how we understand ourselves as humans and how vast the potential is for human thought.
Speaker biography: In 2012 Asifa Majid moved to the Center for Language Studies at Radboud University Nijmegen, the Nethrlands, where she is currently Professor of Language, Communication, and Cultural Cognition. Previously she worked at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics
Aisfa’s research investigates the nature of categories and concepts in language, in non-linguistic perception and cognition, and the relationship between them. She adopt a large-scale cross-cultural approach in order to establish which aspects of categorisation are fundamentally shared, and which language-specific. Her work is interdisciplinary, combining standardised psychological methodology, in-depth linguistic studies and ethnographically-informed description. This coordinated approach has been used to study of domains such as space, event representation and more recently the language of perception.
Aisfa’s work on the relation between scent and smell has this year been featured in the Economist and Guardian, amongst other media outlets.
Links to media articles: