The semantic link: action & language : an investigation of relations between different cognitive domains in early development

Kaduk, Katharina and Lewis, Charlie (2017) The semantic link: action & language : an investigation of relations between different cognitive domains in early development. PhD thesis, Lancaster University.

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The processing of language may derive, in part, from the ability to make sense of others’ actions or gestures. Therefore, in order to understand the emergence of cognitive structures supporting language, an understanding is required of the basic aspects of semantic expectations related to goal-directed actions early in development. These expectations can act as a scaffold for later language development, with implications for vocabulary development and language comprehension. The relations of action and language have, however, not been fully and systematically explored - especially in terms of semantics. The aim of this thesis is to build knowledge in how language derives from understanding the content of action. The emphasis has been placed on semantics, with examinations utilising multiple approaches. We designed three targeted studies that looked at different aspects of age in order to index how we think language and action will interact at those time points. In order to shed light on to specific cognitive processes and organizational changes of brain activity in relation to semantics, we made use of a combination of neurophysiological methods, primarily event-related brain potentials (ERP’s) and event-related oscillations (ERO’s). In this context, semantic processing represents a specific application of a more general process namely that of identifying whenever something we perceive matches the predictions we have or not, based on context. For the capacity to distinguish perceived mismatches, one needs to be able to translate perceived information into meaningful concepts that are built on past and individual experiences. Neural activation that is related to semantics could be reflected in different areas across the brain via different mechanisms. In Chapter 1, the literature on infant language development, action understanding, and possible links between the two cognitive domains is reviewed and linked to semantics. Further, the objectives of this thesis are described. In Chapter 2, the semantic processing of actions at 9 months and how this processing ability may be linked to language proficiency at 9 and 18 months was investigated. In Chapter 3, the semantic representation of newly acquired words in 10-11-month-olds was measured. In Chapter 4, 2-year-olds modulation of motor systems was examined before and after the acquisition of new actions, verbs and sounds. The results of these experiments show that semantics is interwoven in action processing and in language. The implications of the results for understanding action processing in development and its relation to language are considered in Chapter 5.

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Thesis (PhD)
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30 Nov 2017 09:48
Last Modified:
21 Feb 2024 00:20