Mark is an expert in cognitive models of language use, agent-based models of language change, and functional programming and categorisation. We asked him where he sees linguistics in 5-10 years.
1. What do you do at the moment ? How does your work relate to the GramAdapt project?
I am working as a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Cologne's Collaborative Research Centre on Linguistic Prominence. My job in that centre is to develop a theoretical model of linguistic prominence, and explore it through modelling data collected across the other 20 projects in the research centre. My work focuses on understanding how linguistic behaviour arises out of how we process language. For example, there is the question how bilinguals process their two languages, and what biases affect them. I collaborate with Luisa Miceli of the University of Western Australia on research into this topic. Our work offers the psycholinguistic basis for understanding how languages in contact will change due to that contact. The project here offers a wonderful opportunity to see directly the effects of contact on various aspects of language, and to compare those effects with what we would expect from studying individual bilinguals.
2. What is the goal of this visit?
My visit has a few purposes. One is to collaborate with the team in analysing the collected data. Some of this analysis work is exploratory. Our overall goal is to quantify, in mathematically principled ways, the evidence that contact has had an impact on the languages involved. A second purpose of the visit is to give talks. I will present a seminar on Thursday based on my work in Cologne, relating it to issues in natural language processing. On Friday, I will talk about how we can assess evidence for contact effects, making use of Bayes theorem and phylogenetic methods. Thirdly, I am keen to get to know more of the team here in Helsinki, and to explore future options for collaboration. I think we have many interests in common.
3. Where do you see linguistics in 5 - 10 years time?
I am an optimist, so I will present three optimistic views about linguistics over the next half-to-whole decade. I think we will see increasing erosion of dogmatic linguistic viewpoints. There have been a lot of visions of language with somewhat fanatical support. I think we will see these belief-based approaches continue to erode as more evidence becomes available about how language works in us, as individuals and as communities. Many disciplines have an interest in language, and have understood aspects of language through their own research programs. I think that we will see more transfer between these disciplines. It would be great if historical linguistics research made more mention of possible sociolinguistic bases for a change, and sociolinguists paid more attention to the psycholinguistics underpinning human behaviours and biases leading to structured variation. Among the disciplines I see contributing to the study of language are traditional cognitive science disciplines: philosophy, computer science, psychology and neuroscience. More recently, we have newcomers to the study of language: evolutionary dynamics and Bayesian phylogenetics. I hope to see linguists collaborating more with people working across these various fields. Finally, I think that computational simulation will play a much larger role in linguistics than it has upto now. Some of the disciplines that study language, study it in individuals, e.g. psycholinguistics, neurolinguistics. Using agent-based modelling, we can explore the implications of behaviour at these levels on changes in languages at the communal level. For example, if bilinguals are biased against words with similar forms and meanings across their two languages, what are the implications for their two languages if contact lasts millenia. This kind of computational simulation offers the best means I know of for relating language phenomena on the micro and macro levels. In summary, I think linguistics will grow more interdisciplinary - and more interesting - over the next 5-10 years.