Perspective-marking grammar in child acquisition: Linguistic and sociocognitive development

Ditte Boeg Thomsen

The languages of the world provide speakers with linguistic tools for explicating their own and others’ perspectives on things and events in the shape of a wide variety of specialized perspective-marking constructions coding the attention, belief and knowledge of human conceptualizers as well as alignment and divergence between these perspectives (Dixon 2006, Duijn & Verhagen 2018, Evans 2010, Evans, Bergqvist & San Rogue 2018a, b). Such perspective-marking grammar helps speakers coordinate their cognitive states and manage differences between them (Verhagen 2005), and within cognitive linguistics, the crosslinguistically central role of perspective marking in grammar is expected to reflect core human sociocognitive ability and motivation to coordinate with fellow human beings as attentional and mental beings (Verhagen 2005, Evans et al. 2018a). While drawing on insights from psychology (e.g. Tomasello et al. 2005), these cognitive linguistic studies do not investigate the hypothesized relationship with social cognition directly. To examine the nature of this language-cognition relationship, children’s acquisition of linguistic perspective marking offers a useful window, as it allows us to disentangle to which degree acquisition of perspective-marking grammar depends on prior sociocognitive skills and to which degree linguistic development affects these skills.

In this talk, I present a suite of studies targeting children’s acquisition of linguistic perspective marking and its relationship with sociocognitive development. Starting from corpus studies demonstrating typically developing children’s rich and nuanced spontaneous use of two different types of perspective-marking grammar (complement clauses and engagement particles) in peer group conversations (2-6 years), I turn to experimental studies directly examining the interplay between linguistic and sociocognitive development. Presenting evidence from longitudinal and training studies in both typical and atypical development, I show how children’s acquisition of perspective-marking grammar affects their sociocognitive development by supporting their abilities to represent and reason about mental states. The results further suggest a bidirectional relationship, with early sociocognitive skills also predicting later skills with linguistic perspective marking.



Dixon, R.M.W. 2006. Complement clauses and complementation strategies in typological perspective. In Explorations in Linguistic Typology: Complementation: A Cross-Linguistic Typology, ed. R.M.W Dixon & A.Y. Aikhenvald. Oxford, GB: Oxford University Press, UK.

Duijn, M. van & A. Verhagen. 2018. Beyond triadic communication: A three-dimensional conceptual space for modelling intersubjectivity. Pragmatics & Cognition 25,2: 384–416.

Evans, N. 2010. Your mind in mine: Social cognition in grammar. Ch. 4 in Dying words: Endangered languages and what they have to tell us, 69-80. Chicester/Malden/Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

Evans, N., H. Bergqvist & L. San Rogue 2018a. The grammar of engagement I: framework and initial exemplification. Language and Cognition 10,1: 110-140.

Evans, N., H. Bergqvist & L. San Rogue 2018b. The grammar of engagement II: typology and diachrony. Language and Cognition 10,1: 141-170.

Tomasello, M., M. Carpenter, J. Call, T. Behne & H. Moll. 2005. Understanding and sharing intentions: The origins of cultural cognition. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 28: 675-735.

Verhagen, A. 2005. Constructions of intersubjectivity: Discourse, syntax, and cognition. New York: Oxford University Press.

Iconicity, not arbitrariness is a design feature of language

Bodo Winter

Language is traditionally thought to be arbitrary. In describing his foundational “Principle I: The Arbitrary Nature of the Sign,” Ferdinand de Saussure (1916) discussed how the same concept can be expressed with completely different word forms, such as English tree versus Latin arbor. This seems to clearly evidence that form most often does not directly correspond to meaning. Iconicity, the resemblance between form and meaning, was argued to be marginal, confined to a small number of onomatopoeias, such as English bang and beep. Following Saussure, Hockett (1960) characterized arbitrariness as a “design feature” of language, something that distinguishes human language from animal communication systems. The importance of arbitrariness has been “the received view” for decades (Perniss et al., 2010), with iconicity held to be of secondary status.

In this talk, I will argue that iconicity may be a better candidate for a “design feature” than arbitrariness. The first part of my talk will be empirical, focused on evidence showing that iconicity is widespread in spoken and signed languages, where iconicity has also been evidenced to perform important functions in acquisition and evolution. The second part is more theoretical, where I will outline how discussions often confuse ‘arbitrariness’ with ‘conventionality’ (cf. Keller, 1998), or conflate the idea of alternative structures (tree versus arbor) with the separable idea of non-iconicity (Planer & Kalkman, 2021; Watson et al., 2022). Following Flaksman’s (2017, 2020) notion of “de-iconicization”, I will make a case for arbitrariness being epiphenomenal, the result of moving away from originally iconic forms via regular processes of language change. From this perspective, arbitrariness is not itself an evolutionary target. Moreover, whereas the empirical evidence shows that speakers and signers often use iconicity at various levels of linguistic analysis, it seems hard to conceive that language users would actively strive to be arbitrary in most everyday conversations. Taken together, all of this argues for reconsidering the status of arbitrariness vis-à-vis iconicity.



de Saussure, F. (1959 [1916]). Course in general linguistics [Wade Baskin translation]. The philosophical library.

Flaksman, M. (2017). Iconic treadmill hypothesis. In M. Bauer, A. Zirker, O. Fischer, & C. Ljungberg (Eds.), Dimensions of Iconicity. Iconicity in Language and Literature (Vol. 15, pp. 15–38). John Benjamins.

Flaksman, M. (2020). Pathways of de-iconization. Operationalizing Iconicity, 17, 75–103.

Hockett, C. F. (1960). The origin of speech. Scientific American, 203(3), 88–97.

Keller, R. (1998). A theory of linguistic signs. Oxford University Press.

Perniss, P., Thompson, R. L., & Vigliocco, G. (2010). Iconicity as a general property of language: Evidence from spoken and signed languages. Frontiers in Psychology, 1.

Planer, R. J., & Kalkman, D. (2021). Arbitrary signals and cognitive complexity. The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 72(2), 563–586.

Wacewicz, S., & Żywiczyński, P. (2015). Language evolution: Why Hockett’s design features are a non-starter. Biosemiotics, 8(1), 29–46.

Watson, S. K., Filippi, P., Gasparri, L., Falk, N., Tamer, N., Widmer, P., Manser, M., & Glock, H.-J. (2022). Optionality in animal communication: A novel framework for examining the evolution of arbitrariness. Biological Reviews.


Marlene Johansson Falk

Metaphor theories have traditionally focused on the level of language, or on the level of thought. However, more recently it is commonly argued that multiple interacting constraints shape metaphorical meaning (Gibbs Jr & Santa Cruz, 2012; Ruiz de Mendoza Ibáñez & Pérez Hérnandez, 2011). Accordingly, my psychological and corpus linguistic surveys suggest that linguistic metaphors are neither merely lexical, nor merely a reflection of more schematic metaphorical mappings between cognitive domains, but conceptual mappings that involve speakers’ embodied experiences of the specific concepts represented by the lexical items that they use. They are “lexico-encyclopedic conceptual (LEC) metaphors” (Johansson Falck, 2018, 2022)  from which we may gain insights into how speakers’ embodied understandings of the world around them, through affordances (Gibson, 2015), help them structure, re-experience, and metaphorical mappings at more schematic levels of abstraction (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980/2008, 1999). In this presentation, I introduce the notion of LEC metaphors along with a method for identifying metaphors at this level of abstraction (Johansson Falck & Okonski, 2022, accepted)



Gibbs Jr, R. W., & Santa Cruz, M. J. (2012). Temporal unfolding of conceptual metaphoric experience. Metaphor and symbol, 27(4), 299-311.

Gibson, J. J. (2015). The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception: Classic Edition. Psychology Press.

Johansson Falck, M. (2018). From ecological cognition to language: When and why do speakers use words metaphorically? Metaphor and Symbol, 33(2), 61-84.

Johansson Falck, M. (2022). Lexico-encyclopedic conceptual (LEC) metaphors. In T. L. Fuyin (Ed.), Handbook of Cognitive Semantics. Brill.

Johansson Falck, M., & Okonski, L. (2022). Procedure for Identifying Metaphorical Scenes (PIMS): A Cognitive  Linguistics Approach to Bridge Theory and Practice. Cognitive Semantics, 8, 294-322.

Johansson Falck, M., & Okonski, L. (accepted). Procedure for identifying metaphorical scenes (PIMS): The case of spatial and abstract relations. Metaphor & Symbol.

Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (1980/2008). Metaphors We Live By. Univeristy of Chicago Press.

Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (1999). Philosophy in the flesh: The embodied mind and its challenge to western thought. Basic books.

Ruiz de Mendoza Ibáñez, F. J., & Pérez Hérnandez, L. (2011). The contemporary theory of metaphor: Myths, developments and challenges. Metaphor and Symbol, 26(3), 161-185.


Esa Itkonen

‘Methodological monism’ (a. k. a. positivism) is a familiar notion. It is the idea that natural sciences, epitomized by classical mechanics, provide the only legitimate model for scientific data-collection and explanation. This line of thinking may have lost adherents in recent years and decades, but it is still alive, in spite of such shortcomings as have often been pointed out (recently e.g. in Itkonen 2019: Sect. 2 and 2020: Sect. 2).

In this talk I intend to argue for a different kind of monism, namely structural monism. Its point of departure is quite simply the notion of belief.  Every belief has two parts, which can roughly be characterized as ‘form’ (= A) and ‘content’ (= B). A is impersonal while B is personal; A is timeless while B occurs in time; A participates in logical/conceptual relations while B participates in associative relations; and so on. In sum: “Every belief must have both a history and a logic; for they are concerned with different elements of the belief” (Edgley 1978/1965: 24).

It is the thesis of structural monism that every science (apart from logic and mathematics) exemplifies the same bipartite structure, which is ultimately that of a belief. In the scientific context, A is the conceptual precondition for B in the sense of investigating the categorization which applies to phenomena investigated by B.

This thesis may not be surprising in itself, considering that all sciences can be regarded as belief-systems. But in this respect there are also interesting differences between sciences. In some sciences, their bipartite nature has been fully acknowledged or sanctioned in the form of (approximately) corresponding distinctions both between university departments and between professional journals. But in other sciences, their bipartite nature may either remain implicit or be acknowledged only by a minority. It is an intriguing task to explore the causes of these differences: Are they due to intrinsic differences among the subject matters of the respective sciences? Or are they just due to historical accidents?

In linguistics, it is reasonably well understood that A and B  address distinct questions, in such a way that asking the B-question presupposes at least a preliminary answer to the A-question. For instance: A = What is the relative clause in a language L? vs. B = How is it produced and understood, and how has it changed? A = ‘autonomous’ (non-causal) linguistics (cf. Itkonen 1978) vs. B = ‘non-autonomous’ (causal) linguistics (cf. Itkonen 1983). As long as the child is learning L, s/he endorses the B-attitude (= s/he accumulates observations and makes generalizations about the observations s/he has accumulated), but as soon as s/he masters L, s/he endorses the A-attitude (= s/he is competent to evaluate observations as either correct or incorrect): L, having first been a posteriori, becomes a priori (cf. Mäkilähde et al. 2019). It goes without saying that, at the level of data, the A vs. B distinction coincides with the langue vs. parole distinction.

In psychology, the A vs. B distinction is not generally acknowledged, with important exceptions, such as Brentano and Husserl. Brentano: A = ‘descriptive psychology’ vs. B = ‘genetic’ psychology. Husserl: A = ‘descriptive/empirical phenomenology’ (distinguished from ‘transcendental phenomenology’) vs. B = empirical psychology. Examples of A: (i) “An act of will is a want which we have arrived at by coming to a decision and which we think we are able to implement” (Brentano quoted by Chisholm 1967). (ii) The intentional (= ‘directed’) structure of conscious experiences is the starting point of Husserl-type phenomenology (cf. Vuorinen 1971, Juntunen 1986). (iii) Whatever is perceived is perceived as mediated by the ‘figure vs. ground’ contrast. (iv) Whatever is seen, is always seen as having some kind of extension in two or three dimensions. (v) (Addendum) Von Wright’s (1963: Chapter III) taxonomy of actions: ‘the doing of p’, ‘the destroying of p’, ‘the preserving of p’, ‘the suppression of p’, as well as the corresponding forbearances; cf. (i) above.

In 2022, YOUTUBE reveals that ‘phenomenological psychology’, blurring the A vs. B distinction (but with a strong A-emphasis), has become a popular discipline which overlaps with psychotherapy.

In classical physics, the A vs. B distinction has been fully acknowledged in Germany, but not so much elsewhere. A = protophysics vs. B = Newtonian mechanics. A is a general theory of measurement, divided into the increasingly complex subdomains of measuring space, time, and mass (= geometry, chronometry, and ‘hylometry’). Instead of investigating actual physical events, protophysics investigates the concept ‘possible physical event’, as defined by the threefold norms of measurement: “Die idealen Forderungen, durch die die vollkommenen Messungen bestimmt werden, sind Sätze die als Axiomen für die protophysicalische Theorien dienen können” (Lorenzen 1969: 150). There is a perfect analogy between linguistics and classical physics, as here defined: A = possible (sentence or physical event) vs. B = actual (sentence or physical event) (cf. Itkonen 1978: 45).

Quantum physics and Relativity Theory may in some sense have superseded Newtonian mechanics, which nevertheless remains able to account for its chosen realm of phenomena. Therefore protophysics, qua its aprioristic component, also retains its intrinsic value (cf. Janich 1976: 302-314).

The analogy between psychology and (classical) physics was clearly grasped by Husserl, which entails that he in fact envisioned the notion of protophysics avant la lettre: “That the knowledge of the possibilities always precedes that of the actual course of events is one motivating force in Husserl’s thinking. … Like in physics, the a priori statements of psychology are logically prior to any factual propositions, although one may proceed to their comprehension in the opposite direction, …” (Vuorinen 1971: 76-77).

The analogy between A- vs. B-type chemistry and A- vs. B-type linguistics was endorsed by Chomsky (1957: 48): “Perhaps the issue can be clarified by an analogy to a part of chemical theory concerned with the structurally possible compounds.” First, there is the analogy between A-type chemistry and A-type linguistics: “This [chemical] theory might be said to generate all structurally possible compounds just as a grammar generates all grammatically ‘possible’ utterances.” Second, there is in both cases the B-type study which applies this a priori A-framework to empirical data: “This theory would serve as a theoretical basis [= A] for techniques of  qualitative analysis and synthesis of specific compounds [= B], just as one might rely on a grammar [= A] in the investigation of such specific problems as analysis and synthesis of particular utterances [= B].” As always, A is the precondition for B.

In biology, there is the obvious distinction between DNA structure and actual DNAs.

In sociology, the situation is much the same as in psychology, insofar as the A vs. B distinction has remained largely implicit, with such notable exceptions as Winch (1958) and Schutz (1962). Winch: A = ‘aprioristic sociology’ (the study of institutions) vs. B = empirical sociology (the study of institutional behavior); Schutz: A = ‘phenomenological sociology’ (the study of the structure of social encounters, including ‘reciprocity of perspectives’) vs. B = empirical sociology (the study of social encounters). The A-type sociology is also known as ‘sociology of knowledge’ (cf. Itkonen 1978: Sect. 2.4).

Our last example, i.e. evolutionary theory, is unlike the others insofar as here A has been chosen so as to be prior to B: “Some authors look at the Natural System merely as a scheme for arranging together those living objects which are most alike and for separating those which are most unlike; or as an artificial means for enunciating, as briefly as possible, general propositions. … But I believe that something more is included and that the propinquity of descent ― the only known cause of the similarity of organic beings ― is the bond, hidden as it is by various degrees of modification, which is partially revealed to us by our classification” (Darwin 1998/1859: 312-313; emphasis added). ― Compare: “la langue est un principe de classification” (de Saussure 1962/1916: 25).

Darwin’s remark can be illustrated by a rough-and-ready cross-scientific-cum-cross-historical analogy, justified by Lorenzen (1969: 144): “Die seit Galileo and Newton entstandene klassische Physik ist keine phänomenologische [nicht-kausale] Physik, wie die antike Physik weitgehend war, …”:

By now, it should have become clear that my talk is, among other things, meant to be a vindication of analogy as an investigative tool. In fact, the title of Itkonen (2005) ‒ Analogy as structure and process ‒ formulates the distinction between A- vs. B-type analogy. The full power of analogy, exemplified by its capacity to bring together the core of hermeneutic philosophy and the core of computer science, will be the topic of  my contribution (= ‘When does the description coincide with its object?) to the SALC workshop ‘Exploring normativity in language and linguistics’, 19 August 2022. ― Let us conclude with a few caveats:

(i) The object of A-type sciences is not ‘timeless’ in any absolute sense, but in the same sense as any structure (as opposed to function) can be regarded as such (cf. Itkonen 2021).

(ii) From the start, such ‘formal’ sciences as logic and mathematics were excluded from consideration. But it is perfectly feasible to envisage a more comprehensive ‘science of logic’, where A = formal logic vs. B = psychology of logic (cf. Itkonen 2003: Ch. XV = ‘Psychology of logic’, pp. 147-168). The reason for the original exclusion of logic is that, unlike the other A-type sciences, it is not descriptive but prescriptive: not content to describe existing norms, it strives to create new and better norms (namely, for inference).

(iii) The A vs. B distinction (or some equivalent distinction) is almost universally accepted, but not quite. Davidson and Quine disagree, or so it seems. The latter approvingly quotes (1981: 38-39) the former, who writes: “This dualism of scheme and content, of organizing system and something waiting to be organized, cannot be made intelligible and defensible.”

As far as I can see, this remark makes sense only if it is meant to express the self-evident truth that we have no direct access to the Kantian pre-conceptualized das Ding an sich. But importantly, we do have access to something almost analogous. When an adult person P learns to master a foreign language from a scratch, the situation is exactly the one captured by Davidson: P starts with “something waiting to be organized” and ends with an “organizing system”. Of course, the starting point is not fully analogous with das Ding an sich, because it has been conceptualized (and verbalized) as “something waiting to be organized”. Surprisingly, Quine accepts this semi-analogy: “Where I have spoken of a conceptual scheme I could have spoken of a language” (p. 41). And he tells us that Davidson too is happy to accept ‘scheme’ being replaced by ‘language’. In sum, the whole disagreement disappears. (Or does it? And if it does, what was it about, in the first place?)

(iv) La grandeur et la misère de l’analogie, as exemplified by Leonardo da Vinci: On the one hand, he was the master analogist, discovering ― among many other things ― the common ramifying structure of river deltas, tree branches, and blood vessels. On the other, his famous picture of the ‘Vitruvian Man’, enclosed both in a square (= X) and in a circle (= Y), contains two crucial mistakes. First, and contrary to the Renaissance view, there is no real-life analogy between ‘terrestrial man’ (= X) and ‘cosmic man’ (= Y). Second, and again contrary to the Renaissance view, there is no fundamental difference between ‘sublunary’ motion (= square), i.e. motion on the Earth, and ‘superlunary’ motion (= circle), i.e. motion in the Heavens (as Galileo and Newton were soon to prove). Still, Leonardo manages to create a brilliant synthesis of two wrong ideas.

Let us summarize the main topic. In all sciences, researchers make the A vs. B distinction but in human/social sciences it is made, at the level of data, also by research objects, as explained by Trubetzkoy (1969/1939): “The basis for this distinction is that the system of language [= langue] as a social institution constitutes a world of relations, functions, and values, the act of speech [= parole], on the other hand, a world of empirical phenomena. There is no parallel for this in the natural sciences such as botany and zoology. Therefore, these cannot be considered for comparison. But the same type of relation is found in all the social sciences insofar as they deal with the social evaluation of material things. In all such cases the social institution per se  must be strictly distinguished from the concrete acts in which it finds expression, so to speak, and which would not be possible without it” (p. 12; emphasis added).



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Chomsky, Noam. 1957. Syntactic structures. The Hague: Mouton.

Darwin, Charles. 1998/1859. The origin of species. Chatham, Kent: Wordsworth.

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Itkonen, Esa. 1978. Grammatical theory and metascience. A critical investigation into the methodological and philosophical foundations of ‘autonomous’ linguistics. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Itkonen, Esa. 1983. Causality in linguistic theory. A critical investigation into the methodological and philosophical foundations of ‘non-autonomous’ linguistics. London: Croom Helm.

Itkonen, Esa. 2003. Methods of formalization beside and inside both autonomous and non-autonomous linguistics. University of Turku. Publications in General Linguistics 8.

Itkonen, Esa. 2005. Analogy as structure and process. Approaches in linguistics, cognitive psychology, and philosophy of science. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Itkonen, Esa. 2019. Hermeneutics and generative linguistics. A. Kertész, E. Moravcsik & C. Rákosi (eds.): Current approaches to syntax. A comparative handbook, pp. 441-467. Berlin: DeGruyter.

Itkonen, Esa. 2020. Three models for linguistics: Newtonian mechanics, Darwinism, axiomatics. R.M. Nefdt, C. Klippi & B. Karstens (eds.): The philosophy and science of language. Interdisciplinary perspectives, pp. 195-212. Palgrave Macmillan.

Itkonen, Esa 2021. Concerning the ’structure vs. function’ dichotomy. L.M.  Heikkola, G. Paulsen, K. Woijciechowicz & J. Rosenberg (eds.): Språkets funktion. Festschrift for Urpo Nikanne’s 60th birthday, pp. 58-78. Åbo Akademi UP.

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Mäkilähde, A., Leppänen, V. & Itkonen, E. (eds.). 2019. Normativity in language and linguistics. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

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Saussure, Ferdinand de. 1962/1916. Cours de linguistique générale. Paris: Payot.

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Trubetzkoy, N.S. 1969/1939. Prinsiples of phonology. Translated by Christiane A.M. Baltaxe. Berkely & Los Angeles: University of California Press.

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