Language and Cognition

Project Director

Todd Oakley

Associate Professor and Chair of Cognitive Science

International Collaborator

Anders Hougaard

Associate Professor, Institute of Language and Communication, University of Southern Denmark

PROJECT DESCRIPTION

Professors Oakley and Hougaard team-taught the course “Discourse and Cognition” (COGS 301), which included undergraduate and graduate students from both CWRU and the University of Southern Denmark. About 75% of the classes were conducted as “plenary” sessions or as student-led collaborative projects between the two institutions using H.323 videoconferencing technology.

Students studied discourse and interaction from a cognitive linguistics perspective. Cognitive linguistics seeks to describe and explain language as a symbolic activity involving general cognitive processes, such as perception, attention, memory, categorization, framing and sensory-motor activities. Another burgeoning area of interest among cognitive linguists is social cognition, gesture and interaction. In each of these endeavors, the goal is to explain as much about language as possible without positing autonomous and language-specific faculties.

The readings, discussion, and research projects focused on the following topics: attention, category structure, conceptual integration, interactional conduct, intersubjectivity, consciousness, co-speech gesture, mental spaces, prosody, time and temporality.

The international structure of this course led to discussion and research projects on English as a Second Language, English as a Foreign Language, English in European Contexts, and European Languages in American contexts, particularly in the domains of advertising and other forms of persuasion through mass and new media. In particular, students examined political and civic discourse in the American and European contexts, focusing on election and public service campaigns in Ohio and in Odense, Denmark.

PROJECT OUTCOMES

The students began to establish their own research networks in Europe, and they enjoyed sustained opportunities to compare discourse practices in Europe and the United States. Where students from the two institutions expected to find similarities in their discourse practices, they often found differences; and where they expected to find differences, they often found similarities. This lesson, already familiar to anthropologists, is one that cognitive scientists need to understand as well.

Polycom video is very high resolution, so that within minutes the interactions became seamless, as if we were all in the same room. Because the class began early in the morning (8:30 a.m.), there were few problems associated with increased Internet traffic, but there were some glitches along the way. Because the University of Southern Denmark has a firewall that prevents CWRU from calling Odense, Odense had to make the first contact each session.

FACT SHEET

Total funding: $4,802

Funding allowed Professor Oakley to travel to Denmark to design the course, meet with stakeholders and help Professor Hougaard secure his university’s investment in the technology necessary to facilitate the collaboration. The University of Southern Denmark has since created a high-tech classroom on the basis of this collaboration, so there is now a permanent infrastructure to support team-teaching and interaction between the two institutions.

The grant also funded a second trip by Professor Oakley to Denmark to work on the Atlantis Grant. A grant agent in Brussels approached the project collaborators to establish an exchange program between students and faculty at Case Western Reserve University, the University of Southern Denmark, and two other partner institutions, one in Europe, the other in the United States.

Todd Oakley

Todd Oakley

Associate Professor and Chair of Cognitive Science
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