6 blocks of 2 hours each

The course explores how socio-cognitive skills, such as perspective-taking and indexical reference strategies are expressed in grammar. The functions of forms relevant to this exploration are shaped in part by the grammars of languages, but are also argued to share some universal functions that pertain to the intersubjective nature of human communication. The interchangeable roles of the speaker and hearer in conversation give rise to various strategies that signal the respective statuses and stances of the speech-participants; a key concern in the study of social cognition in language. The course draws on data from lesser-described languages spoken in small-scale communities in addition to data from the more familiar languages of Europe. Issues relating to methodology include elicitation tasks and data treatment in the form of annotation and analysis.




1. Introduction - an evolutionary perspective on social cognition

We discuss theories of language evolution from the perspective of the development of social cognition in humanoids. We explore the role of joint attention and “shared intentionality” in the development of human cognition and possible implications for the evolution language.


  • Distin, Kate. 2010. Cultural Evolution. Cambridge University Press Online. (Ch1)
  • Snowdon, Charles T. 2004. Social Processes in the Evolution of Complex Cognition and Communication. In D. Kimbrough Oller and Ulrike Griebel, (eds.) Evolution of Communication Systems: A Comparative Approach. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. 131-150
  • Tomasello, Michael. 2008. Origins of Human Communication. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. (Ch 1)

2. Hearers and speakers - dialogicity in language

We focus on the role of dialogic interaction and linguistic resources that attend to the interchangeable roles of speaker and hearer. We will especially focus on the role of the hearer/addressee with respect to important areas of linguistic research, such as speech-act theory and reference.


  • Evans, Nicholas. 2012. Nen assentives and the problem of dyadic parallelisms. In Andrea C. Schalley (ed.) Practical Theories and Empirical Practice. Facets of a complex interaction. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. Pp. 159-83.
  • Clark, H. H., and Brennan, S. A. 1991. Grounding in communication. In L.B. Resnick, J.M. Levine, & S.D. Teasley (Eds.). Perspectives on socially shared cognition. Washington: APA Books.

3. Participant roles, stance, and viewpoint

We discuss the notions “footing” (Goffman), “stance”, and “viewpoint” as overlapping conceptualizations that relate to perspective-taking and the speech-participant’s epistemic positions in discourse. Categorical notions such as modality and evidentiality are also discussed in this context.


  • Dancygier, Barbara & Eve Sweetser. (eds.) 2012. Viewpoint in Language: A multimodal perspective. Cambridge University Press. (Introduction)
  • Du Bois, J.W. 2007. The stance triangle. In R. Englebretson (ed.) Stancetaking in discourse. Amsterdam: Benjamins, 139-182.
  • Kockelman, Paul. 2004. Stance and Subjectivity. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 14, 127-150.

4. Knowledge asymmetries in the common ground

“Epistemic gradients” and asymmetric access to knowledge are notions that serve to differentiate between different kinds of common ground, i.e. established knowledge between speaker and hearer. We discuss these notions from a conversation analytical perspective, including cross-linguistic observations on the function of sentence final particles in discourse.


  • Enfield, N. J., Penelope Brown, Jan P. de Ruiter. 2013. Epistemic dimensions of polar questions: sentence final particles in comparative perspective. In Jan P. de Ruiter (ed.) Questions: Formal, Functional and Interactional Perspectives. Cambridge University Publishing Online. pp. 193-221
  • Haddad, Youssef A. 2013. Pronouns and intersubjectivity in Lebanese Arabic gossip. Journal of Pragmatics 49. pp. 57-77. 
  • Heritage, John. 2012. Epistemics in Action: Action Formation and Territories of Knowledge. Research on Language & Social Interaction 45, Routledge. pp. 1-29.
  • Levinson, Stephen C. 2013. Action Formation and Ascription. In Jack Sidnell and Tanya Stivers (eds.), The Handbook of Conversation Analysis, Blackwell Publishing, 103-130.

5. Documenting the interpersonal context: Methodology, data, and analysis.

We examine strategies for data-collection, annotation and analysis in the domain of socio-cognitive constructions, examining some of the pitfalls and striving towards a focus on key issues in attempts to document the interactional context.


  • Hanks, William F. 2009. Fieldwork on Deixis. Journal of Pragmatics 41:1, 10-24
  • San Roque, L., Gawne, L., Hoenigman, D., Miller, J. C., Rumsey, A., Spronck, S., Carroll, A., & Evans, N. 2012. Getting the story straight: Language fieldwork using a narrative problem-solving task. Language Documentation and Conservation, 6, 135-174. http://hdl.handle.net/10125/4504.

6. Summing up: cross-linguistic perspectives on social cognition in language

We discuss problems associated with shaping typologies of language structures that attend to perspective-taking and reference. We examine some possible ways forward in the continued exploration of social cognition from a descriptive and cross-linguistic point of view.