10/26: Speaker Series continues with Isabelle Charnavel

LaMERG Distinguished Lecture Series Talk

“Dance Your Mind: Steps Towards a Generative Theory of Dance Cognition”
Isabelle Charnavel, Harvard University
Wednesday, Oct 26: 5:45 pm. SBS S-207

Abstract: The hypothesis that this talk investigates is that there exists a grammar of dance, i.e., cognitive structures underlying the understanding of dance movement, a counterpart of music in the visual modality. Specifically, we ask: what are the primitive elements of dance (cf. phonology)? What are the rules of combination (cf. prosody/morphology/syntax)? What is the meaning of dance if any (cf. semantics)?

This talk will mainly focus on the second question and examine some organizational principles of the mental representation of dance perception. In particular, the grouping structure of dance will be explored based on Gestalt principles and musical structure. Ultimately, the goal is to elaborate a theory of dance cognition, which should shed further light on cognitive systems by distinguishing between general cognitive properties and modality-specific or domain-specific properties.


Fall 2016 Speaker Series Begins 10/5

Music and Poetry’s Great Leap Forward? or Searching for the Easter Egg

Samuel Jay Keyser, MIT

Wednesday, October 5th, 5:45pm, Stony Brook University, SBS S-209

This talk explores the notion of “private codes” in music and poetry, and what happened to them at the turn of the 20th-century. It focuses on musical compositions and poems because these art forms rely on two reasonably well understood systems of rules. These rules formed the basis of a natural aesthetic shared by artist and audience in the way that the rules of one’s natural language are shared. At the turn of the 20th century poets and composers (and painters) abandoned the shared rule component and turned instead to “private codes.“ As a result, appreciation of these art forms now came, if at all, after specialized study of the sort demanded by calculus or computer programming. This is, in part, why the 20th century has seen the extraordinary rise of exegesis in the arts as an independent field of study.

Nov 17th: Distinguished Lecture Series: Aniruddh Patel

LaMERG FALL 2015 proudly presents our Distinguished Lecture Series!

Speaker: Aniruddh Patel, Tuesday Nov. 17th, 6pm in Psychology Building A, Room 109

“Can nonlinguistic musical training change the way the brain processes speech?”
Aniruddh Patel

Tufts University

Mounting evidence suggests that musical training is associated with enhancements in certain aspects of speech processing (e.g., hearing speech in noise, prosody perception, and second language phonological abilities).   Are these benefits caused by musical training, or is this merely a case of correlation without causation?  If they are caused by training, how and why would such transfer effects occur? In this talk I will discuss recent evidence for associations between musical training and speech perception abilities, and lay out a theoretical framework which can explain how and why learning a musical instrument could impact speech processing.

Refreshments will be served in a minor key

New Semester, New event!

Hi everyone,
The Language, Music and Emotion Research Group (LaMERG) is back!

We are delighted to announce our first lecture of the semester, by Philippe Schlenker from Institut Jean-Nicod, CNRS in Paris and NYU.
The talk will be held Wed. Sept. 9 at 6:00 pm in SBS S-207 (Linguistics Seminar Room).  Minor key refreshments will be served.

Prolegomena to a Music Semantics”
by Philippe Schlenker (Institut Jean-Nicod, CNRS; New York University)
While it is almost uncontroversial that music is subject to ‘syntactic rules’ (although not necessarily related to those we find in language), it is initially very unclear that music has ‘meaning’ in anything like the usual sense. We sketch a conceptual framework in which music can be taken to have meaning and even truth conditions. But their source is very different from that of meaning in language; normal auditory cognition is much a better model for musical meaning than language is.
Hope to see you there!

Lecture Series Continues (Tomorrow!)

Our next LaMERG talk will be given by our own John F. Bailyn, on Tuesday, April 14th, at 5:30pm in the Linguistics Seminar Room.

All are welcome!

Language, music, fire and chess
John Frederick Bailyn

Linguistics Seminar Room (SBS S-207).

5:30pm, Tuesday, April 14th

In his influential 2006 book Music, Language and the Brain, Patel makes the following unexpected constructivist claim about the evolution of music: “there is no compelling evidence that music represents an evolutionary adaptation.”  Rather, Patel compares the universality of music across all human cultures to that of the ability to use fire, which all human cultures also share, but which in and of itself not an evolutionary adaptation. He also compares the cognitive complexity of music to chess playing, which is “a complex cognitive ability that is unique to our species, but which has not been the target of natural selection.” Patel’s constructivist claim about music evolution is all the more startling when taken in contrast to his strongly adaptionist view of the evolution of language: he provides “10 lines of evidence that I find … most compelling in favor of a direct role for natural selection in the evolution of language” and then attempts to refute such evidence for music.

In the first part of this talk, I review in detail Patel’s claimed and implied distinctions between language and music, and show that in every relevant aspect, music shares the properties attributed to language and does not in fact have the expected properties of cultural inventions such as fire or chess. In the second part, I provide a plausible co-evolution story for language and music based primarily on the work of cognitive archeologists Steven Mithen and Iain Morley, which also allows me to address some aspects of the current modularity debate surrounding these two highly complex systems.