Beyond Single-Mindedness

Seen from Earth, the movements of celestial bodies display near-intractable complexity. When taking not a single vantage point but multiple (here, Sun and Earth), suddenly the picture changes, and new forms of order become visible (Sousanis, 2015). Likewise, key concerns of cognitive science may be illuminated by a change of perspective that locates cognition not in isolated but in interacting minds.

Image from Dingemanse et al. (2023). Sources: Left: Encyclopaedia Brittanica (1771), after a similar engraving by Cassini (via); Right: Copernicus (1543) De revolutionibus orbium cœlestium.

Dingemanse, M., Liesenfeld, A., Rasenberg, M., Albert, S., Ameka, F. K., Birhane, A., Bolis, D., Cassell, J., Clift, R., Cuffari, E., De Jaegher, H., Dutilh Novaes, C., Enfield, N. J., Fusaroli, R., Gregoromichelaki, E., Hutchins, E., Konvalinka, I., Milton, D., Rączaszek-Leonardi, J., … Wiltschko, M. (2023). Beyond Single-Mindedness: A Figure-Ground Reversal for the Cognitive Sciences. Cognitive Science, 47. Download

Vowel-colour associations

L: The vowel space with colour associations by a synaesthete. R: The same vowels displayed according to tongue position when produced. Visualization: Christine Cuskley & Mark Dingemanse. For an interactive version of this visual, see here.

van Leeuwen, T., & Dingemanse, M. (2022). Samenwerkende zintuigen. In S. Dekker & H. Kause (Eds.), Wetenschappelijke doorbraken de klas in! (pp. 85–116). Wetenschapsknooppunt Radboud Universiteit. Download
Cuskley, C., Dingemanse, M., Kirby, S., & van Leeuwen, T. M. (2019). Cross-modal associations and synesthesia: Categorical perception and structure in vowel–color mappings in a large online sample. Behavior Research Methods, 51(4), 1651–1675. Download

Bootstraps, bridges and scaffolds

Graphic I made for a talk about our paper on roles of iconicity in words learning. As part of this paper we briefly review the role of metaphors in theories about language & development.

Nielsen, A. K. S., & Dingemanse, M. (2021). Iconicity in Word Learning and Beyond: A Critical Review. Language and Speech, 64(1), 52–72. Download

Shooing words

Shooing words —words that people use to chase away chickens— turn out to be highly similar across unrelated languages. These illustrations by Josje van Koppen accompanied a write-up about my serendipitous finding in popular science magazine Onze Taal.

The actual table from my paper looks a lot less exciting, but it does contain additional information about language families and about words for ‘chicken’ in the same set of languages. The basic conclusions is that words for ‘shoo’, but not ‘chicken’, show strong convergence towards sibilant sounds in 17 languages from 11 unrelated language families.

Illustrations from: Renckens, Erica. “‘Ksst!’ Het Lokken En Wegjagen van Dieren.” Onze Taal, 2020.

Dingemanse, M. (2020). Recruiting assistance and collaboration: a West-African corpus study. In S. Floyd, G. Rossi, & N. J. Enfield (Eds.), Getting others to do things: A pragmatic typology of recruitments (pp. 369–421). Language Science Press. Download Download

The space between our heads

Not strictly a scientific visualization, and not by me. Still included here because it is a compelling illustration of the central point of this essay on brain-to-brain interfaces, which deals with naïve ideas about a cyberpunk future in which we’d be connected by wires instead of words. (Source of the image is Technology Review, who got it from shutterstock.)

Dingemanse, M. (2020). Der Raum zwischen unseren Köpfen. Technology Review, 2020(13), 10–15. Download
Dingemanse, M. (2017). Brain-to-brain interfaces and the role of language in distributing agency. In N. J. Enfield & P. Kockelman (Eds.), Distributed Agency (pp. 59–66). Oxford University Press. Download

Playful iconicity

Illustration accompanying news coverage in NRC of our paper on playful iconicity: when words sound like what they mean. By Jet Peters.

Dingemanse, M., & Thompson, B. (2020). Playful iconicity: structural markedness underlies the relation between funniness and iconicity. Language and Cognition, 12(1), 203–224. Download

Folk definitions of ideophones

Ideophones have rich imagistic meanings that can be hard to describe. In explaining the ideophone minimini, four speakers of Siwu independently use gestures that are both similar (in depicting a spherical shape) and different (in size, handshape, and method of representation). Collectively, the gestures illustrate an elusive aspect of the ideophone’s meaning while also showing that its linguistic form as spoken word is more conventionalized than the gestures it comes with.

Dingemanse, M. (2015). Folk definitions in linguistic fieldwork. In J. Essegbey, B. Henderson, & F. McLaughlin (Eds.), Language Documentation and Endangerment in Africa (pp. 215–238). John Benjamins. Download

Which words are the same across languages?

Illustration made by Frank Landsbergen for a piece on universal words I wrote for a popular science book. It covers three types of words that, each for their own reason, come out similarly across languages. The three types are: (i) interactional tools (huh? for repair, oh! for a news receipt); (ii) expressive interjections (au for ‘ouch’); and (iii) onomatopoeia (bam ‘BAM’).

Simplifying somewhat, interactional tools are similar across languages because the ecology they live in (the rapid-fire turn-taking of conversation) provides the same selective pressures across languages; a case of convergent cultural evolution. Expressive interjections may go back to ancestral vocalizations also found in our close evolutionary relatives. And onomatopoeia come out similarly to the extent that they imitate the same kinds of sounds.

Dingemanse, M. (2014). Welk woord is in elke taal hetzelfde? In S. Deurloo (Ed.), Waarom drinken we zoveel koffie? 101 slimme vragen (pp. 159–161). Kennislink. Download
Dingemanse, M. (2023). Interjections. In E. van Lier (Ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Word Classes. Oxford University Press. Download
Dingemanse, M. (2017). On the margins of language: Ideophones, interjections and dependencies in linguistic theory. In N. J. Enfield (Ed.), Dependencies in language (pp. 195–202). Language Science Press. Download

Depiction in speech and gesture

On the ground is a plate of metal on which two small amounts of gunpowder have been laid to dry in the sun; besides it stands the speaker, explaining why one needs to be careful when igniting the gunpowder to test its quality: it may flare up “SHÛ, SHÛ”, a vocal depiction that is produced in precise synchrony with the two hands moving symmetrically in a quick upward motion. (The right hand holds an object.)

Dingemanse, M. (2013). Ideophones and gesture in everyday speech. Gesture, 13(2), 143–165. Download