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Talk 5

Professor Nick Ellis

English Language Institute
University of Michigan
More information

‘What she said’: Usage-based approaches to Language Cognition, Translation, and Interpretation

Usage-based approaches to language acquisition hold that our linguistic competence rests on the conspiracy of our language experiences – all the memories of ‘being there’ in the situated moments of our life-history along with their contingent language. Our implicit memory systems analyze the patterns latent in this usage to produce a rational catalogue of the constructions of thought-sound. Ellis (2019) emphasized several Essentials of language cognition: our Embodiment, Enaction, Environmental Embeddedness, and Enculturation. The Douglas Fir Group (2016) likewise recognized languages as Emergent, social, integrated phenomena. Language, the quintessence of distributed cognition, is shared across naturally-occurring, culturally-constituted communicative activities. Two other ever-Essentials – Emotion and Empathy – are particularly relevant when considering Translation Studies. Those hearing a successful translation of ‘what she said’ experience the faithful same feeling of ‘being there’ as did her original audience. This remarkable feat rests on a compassionate translator having achieved the essentials of cognition across two languages, enough to ensure their being ‘fascinated to presume’ to put the right words into the mouths of others (Smith, 2019).

Douglas Fir Group (2016). A transdisciplinary framework for SLA in a multilingual world. Modern Language Journal, 100, 19-47. doi: 10.1111/modl.12301
Ellis, N. C. (2019). Essentials of a theory of language cognition. Modern Language Journal, 103 (Supplement 2019), 39-60. DOI: 10.1111/modl.12532
Smith, Z. (2019) “Fascinated to presume: In defense of fiction.” The New York Review of Books. October 24, 2019. https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2019/10/24/zadie-smith-in-defense-of-fiction.