Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Christopher D. Viger


My dissertation establishes the basis for a systematic outlook on the role language plays in human cognition. It is an investigation based on a cognitive conception of language, as opposed to communicative conceptions, viz. those that suppose that language plays no role in cognition (its only role being to externalize thought). I focus, in Chapter 2, on three paradigmatic theories adopting this perspective, each offering different views on how language contributes to or changes cognition. In Chapter 3, I criticize current views held by dual-process theorists, and I develop a picture of the complex interaction between language and cognition that I deem more plausible by using resources from the literature on the evolution of the faculty of language. Rather than trying to find one general explanation for all cognitive processes, I take seriously the idea that our mind is composed of many subsystems, and that language can interact and modify each in different ways. There is no reason offered in the empirical literature—besides maybe parsimony—that suggest that language has to interact in the same ways with all cognitive processes. Yet, this is seemingly taken for granted, especially within dual-process approaches. On my view, it is a central requirement for a theory of the role of language in cognition to explain how language might have effects, at once, on and within various parts of cognition. In Chapter 4, I explore how this framework can modify how we think about some experiments in psychology, specifically in research on categorization. My idea is that language, once it (or any possible primitive forms) evolved, changed how some cognitive capacities worked and interacted with each other, but did so in more than one or two ways. Cognitive systems are changed in very different ways—sometimes the transformation is very subtle, such as our way of forming categories by using how similar objects are, while other times it is deep and changes the very way the system works.

Beaulac-frm-nl59-2.pdf (98 kB)
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