According to most theories, the way we talk about the world is limited by basic, probably universal, constraints on how we conceptualize events, space and objects (Slobin, 1973; Bloom, 1973). For instance, models of language production assume that speakers start by event conceptualization (the non-linguistic apprehension of an event), followed by an information selection and linguistic formulation process ending in the production of speech (Levelt, 1989). Similarly, models of language acquisition assume that learners are equipped with a set of concepts for representing events and their components and that acquiring language requires mapping incoming speech onto this set of concepts (Gleitman, 1990). This suggests that the way humans naturally perceive and represent events is responsible for the format of linguistic structure. While human infants have been shown to represent some event components similarly to human adults (e.g., Leslie and Keeble, 1987), much less is known about non-human animals. The objective of this project is to examine whether non-human primates’ event representation contains linguistically relevant components, in fairly abstract forms. Results will be important to decide whether language structure is the result of a human-specific way of representing events, or rather, whether our representation of the world is shared with other species, which would suggest that the process that gives rise to language in humans lies in some specialization of this shared representation format.
(This internship will be conducted in close collaboration with Joel Fagot in the primate centre of Rousset, near Marseille)