Linguistics Colloquium: Iris Berent (Northeastern University)

NOV 06, 2014 | 4:15 PM TO 6:15 PM



The Graduate Center
365 Fifth Avenue




November 06, 2014: 4:15 PM-6:15 PM




Speaker: Iris Berent (Northeastern University)
Research: The nature of linguistic competence, its origins, and its interaction with reading ability
Title: The Phonological Mind


Human weave phonological patterns instinctively. We form phonological patterns at birth; like songbirds, we do so spontaneously, even in the absence of an adult model, and we impose phonological design not only on our natural linguistic communication but also on invented cultural technologies—reading and writing. Why are humans—young and mature—compelled to generate phonological patterns? And how can phonological patterns be intimately grounded in their sensorimotor channels (oral or manual) while remaining partly amodal, fully productive and abstract? In this talk, I suggest that the phonological grammar is a specialized algebraic system of core knowledge. It encompasses algebraic, grammatical constraints that are universal, but its adaptive design is shaped by phonetic triggers that operate in ontogeny and phylogeny. I evaluate this hypothesis against domain-general associationist explanations in light of behavioral, neuroimaging and linguistic studies that gauge the design of the phonological mind across modalities (speech and sign) and its capacity for discrete infinity.


Berent, Iris. (2013a). The phonological mind. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Berent, Iris. (2013b). The phonological mind. Trends In Cognitive Sciences, 17(7), 319-327. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2013.05.004
Berent, Iris , Pan, Hong , Zhao, Xu, Epstein, Jane , Bennett, Monica L. , Deshpande, Vibhas , . . . Stern, Emily. (2014). Language universals engage Broca’s area. PLoS ONE.
Berent, Iris, Dupuis, Amanda, & Brentari, Diane. (2014). Phonological reduplication in sign language: Rules rule. Frontiers in Language Sciences.
Berent, Iris, Lennertz, Tracy, Jun, Jongho, Moreno, Miguel A., & Smolensky, Paul. (2008). Language universals in human brains. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 105(14), 5321-5325.
Berent, Iris, Wilson, Colin, Marcus, Gary, & Bemis, Doug. (2012). On the role of variables in phonology: Remarks on Hayes and Wilson. Linguistic Inquiry, 43(1), 97–119.
Gómez, David Maximiliano, Berent, Iris, Benavides-Varela, Silvia, Bion, Ricardo A. H., Cattarossi, Luigi, Nespor, Marina, &
Mehler, Jacques. (2014). Language universals at birth. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1318261111