The whys and wherefores of language

In recent years, language has moved from being conceived in absolute terms, where certain domains or explanations have been postulated as the only plausible options for characterising language and its functioning (e.g. arbitrary, innate, social, monomodal (oral-auditory)), to a more integrative account that takes into account not only the multimodal nature of language, but also the different aspects – both innate and socio-culturally developed – that enable and shape language processing by speakers from different linguistic realities (types and modalities of the languages they speak and their own relationship to them). These advances have made it possible for the study of language motivation, i.e. the set of factors that can explain how and why humans are able to process and communicate concepts based on our own worldview and specific multimodal resources in an ontogenetic and phylogenetic way, to become central to cognitive science.

The aim of this talk is to explore the concept of language motivation in relation to cognition and to key aspects such as meaning, use and form. To this end, and through a retrospective based on my research team’s findings over the last decades on language processing in different languages of the world, I will construct answers to key questions about the concept and scope of motivation, such as: How are meanings of different multimodal linguistic units developed and processed? Is there a relationship between non-universal concepts and typological properties of languages? Is there a direct relationship between the way concepts are encoded and their meaning? In short, in this talk we will search for the whys and wherefores of language.