Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Faculty of Life Sciences - Department of Psychology

Computational Modeling

In traditional theories of linguistic research it is assumed that words are arbitrary designations for concepts, i.e. they can be chosen arbitrarily. In principle, we have absolute freedom in how we name things. In fact, however, designations are always chosen in a particular linguistic, historical, and social context, which influences and and constrains this choice: For example, the existence of the word "telephone" in English suggests that a portable phone should be called a "cell phone" (this example also shows that as a language community we may not always choose the most obvious or obvious word: in German, the word "Handy" is more successful).

On the other hand, designations almost always entail certain associations or evaluations: the German "Völkerwanderung" describes in itself exactly the same concept as the Italian "invasione barbariche". But the name does not seem to be irrelevant here: Is the concept described something good or bad? What kind of people are on the move? What are they doing?

Our project aims to establish a comprehensive cognitive theory for the selection and effects of names: Why do speakers choose certain names to describe (new) concepts, and how do these names influence the perception and evaluation of these concepts? To investigate this question, we combine computational modeling techniques from the field of computational linguistics with empirical methods from experimental psychology.