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The interdisciplinary research group Emergentist Semantics investigated constraints of different natures that contribute to the emergence of meaning in children and learning systems. In this approach, cognition is seen as extending not only multimodally but also beyond an individual brain. Accordingly, an embodied agent does not have to create the meaning solely relying on his own cognitive capabilities; instead, an agent's attentional processes are already guided and educated by the physical and social environment to specific aspects.
The general goal of the research group was to identify different sources of information reduction and analyze their effects.

Emergentist Semantics?

In our view, meaning is a function of the relating elements rather than being intrinsic to any single element (cf. Jeff Malpas, 2002). This is in line with recent robotic systems seeking for system explanation implying that we have to regard not only one component's performance but the whole system's performance. We think that modeling provides a facilitative access to some phenomena of learning that in traditional research have been attributed to independent cognitive 'components'.

Hollich, G., Hirsh-Pasek, K., Tucker, M. L., and Golinkoff, R. M. (2000): The change is afoot: Emergentist thinking in language acquisition. In: Anderson, P. B. Emmeche, C., Finnemann, N. O. and Voetmann Christiansen, P. (eds.): Downward causation. Aarhus: Aarhus University Press: 143-178.

Ke, J. & Holland, J. H. (2006): Language Origin from an Emergentist Perspective. In: Applied Linguistics 27, 691-716.

MacWhinney, B. (1998): Models of the emergence of language. Annual Review of Psychology 49, 199-227. How emergentist concepts can apply to various levels of language learning.

Malpas, J. (2002): The weave of meaning: holism and contextuality. Language & Communication 22, 403-419.