Cognitive Neuroscience of Linguistic Variation in Pragmatic Inference

Project Leader
SAKAI Hiromu (Waseda University)


Background and Purpose

It is impossible to imagine the present thriving state of humanity if not accompanied by communication through language. Up until now, experimental research on language has mostly taken as an object of study the language faculty in its narrow sense, but even without citing Chomsky’s (2014) words to the effect that “the language faculty in the narrow sense would be useless if it were not linked to pragmatics,” it is clear that in order to elucidate the nature of human communicative competence, it is essential to do further research into the pragmatic faculty in addition to the language faculty in the narrow sense. With this in mind, and taking into account relevance theory (Sperber and Wilson 1986 /1995) and the rational speech act model (Frank and Goodman 2012), the present research project looks at the pragmatic inferential process which draws explicature (overt meaning) and implicature (covert meaning) from logical form (the output of the language faculty in the narrow sense), and looks at the neurological basis for this. Drawing comparisons with languages that are genealogically and typologically unrelated to Japanese, this research will use experimental methods including brain function measurement to explore the issue empirically.

Objectives and Methods

Taking Japanese and multiple languages that are genealogically and typologically unrelated to Japanese as its objects of study, this research looks at the calculation content (grammar), calculation procedure (processing), and implementation (neurological basis) of pragmatic inference from diverse standpoints such as linguistics, psychology, and neurology, developing an integrated analysis in order to contribute to the elucidation of the human language faculty in its broadest aspect. In addition, with a view to the future, this research aspires to contribute to the wellbeing of humanity by making advances in understanding such problems as acquisition of resources for expressing speech intention, such as sentence final particles and intonation (which is said to be difficult for learners of Japanese), the development of communicative competence in autistic children (who are said to experience difficulty in pragmatic inference), and the inference faculty of sufferers of dementia (who are said to have a disability of the “social brain”).