Colloquium (05/02/2018): Sandra Waxman (Northwestern University)

Sandra Waxman is interested in infants’ and young children’s concepts, words, and reasoning across cultures and across language. Her research focuses on the development of language within infants starting from a very young age and acquiring different languages, the development of reasoning and epistemology of the natural world of infants with various cultural backgrounds, and the development of language and the development of reasoning and concepts interact. For more information, her website is here.

Becoming human: How (and how early) do infants link language and cognition?

Language is a signature of our species. To acquire a language, infants must identify which signals are part of their language and discover how these are linked to the objects and events they encounter and to their core representations. For infants as young as 3 months of age, listening to human vocalizations promotes the formation of object categories, a fundamental cognitive capacity. Moreover, this precocious link emerges from a broader template that initially encompasses vocalizations of human and non-human primates but is rapidly tuned specifically to human vocalizations. In this talk, I’ll focus on the powerful contributions of both ‘nature’ and ‘nurture’ as infants discover increasingly precise links between language and cognition and use them to learn about their world. I’ll also tie in ideas about the place of this language-cognition link in considerations of cognitive and developmental science.