Penelope Brown

Penelope Brown
Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics | MPI · Language Acquisition

PhD

About

100
Publications
63,451
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Introduction
Penelope Brown is recently retired from the Language Acquisition Group, Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in the Netherlands. Penelope does research in Linguistic Anthropology and child development. Current projects include 'Mayan language acquisition' and several paper and book projects on child language and development in Tzeltal Mayan and on Rossel Island, Papua New Guinea.
Additional affiliations
September 2009 - July 2010
Institute of Advanced Study, Berlin
Position
  • Fellow
September 1991 - November 2009
Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics
Position
  • Senior Researcher, Emer.

Publications

Publications (100)
Article
As a turn-design strategy, repeating another has been described for English as a fairly restricted way of constructing a response, which, through re-saying what another speaker just said, is exploitable for claiming epistemic primacy, and thus avoided when a second speaker has no direct experience. Conversations in Mesoamerican languages present a...
Article
This article makes the case for the universality of the sequence organization observable in informal human conversational interaction. Using the descriptive schema developed by Schegloff (2007), we examine the major patterns of action-sequencing in a dozen nearly all unrelated languages. What we find is that these patterns are instantiated in very...
Article
Full-text available
The rate at which young children are directly spoken to varies due to many factors, including (a) caregiver ideas about children as conversational partners and (b) the organization of everyday life. Prior work suggests cross-cultural variation in rates of child-directed speech is due to the former factor, but has been fraught with confounds in comp...
Preprint
This paper describes childrearing practices, beliefs, and attitudes in a Papua New Guinea society - that of the Rossel Islanders - and shows, through analysis of interactions with infants and small children, how these are instantiated in everyday life. Drawing on data collected during research on Rossel Island spanning 14 years, including parental...
Article
Full-text available
Daylong at‐home audio recordings from 10 Tseltal Mayan children (0;2–3;0; Southern Mexico) were analyzed for how often children engaged in verbal interaction with others and whether their speech environment changed with age, time of day, household size, and number of speakers present. Children were infrequently directly spoken to, with most directe...
Article
Full-text available
Is there a universal hierarchy of the senses, such that some senses (e.g., vision) are more accessible to consciousness and linguistic description than others (e.g., smell)? The long-standing presumption in Western thought has been that vision and audition are more objective than the other senses, serving as the basis of knowledge and understanding...
Article
Full-text available
How do people answer polar questions? In this fourteen-language study of answers to questions in conversation, we compare the two main strategies; first, interjection-type answers such as uh-huh (or equivalents yes , mm , head nods, etc.), and second, repetition-type answers that repeat some or all of the question. We find that all languages offer...
Poster
Full-text available
Our study investigates the trajectory of the semantic development of verbs of material separation and destruction in child and adult speakers of Mandarin, Tzeltal, and Tamil.
Chapter
Spatial cognition is central to human thinking, and spatial language is thus an important area of study, as it may reveal fundamental properties of human thought. Recent research has shown that spatial language is much more divergent across languages than had previously been thought, suggesting significant cultural patterning of spatial conceptuali...
Chapter
This article assesses the advantages and limitations of three different approaches to the analysis of politeness in language: politeness as social rules, politeness as adherence to an expanded set of Gricean Maxims, and politeness as strategic attention to 'face.’ It argues that only the last can account for the observable commonalities in polite e...
Article
Full-text available
In order to make sense of the world, humans tend to see causation almost everywhere. Although most causal relations may seem straightforward, they are not always construed in the same way cross-culturally. In this study, we investigate concepts of “chance,” “coincidence,” or “randomness” that refer to assumed relations between intention, action, an...
Article
Full-text available
The scope of planning during sentence formulation is known to be flexible, as it can be influenced by speakers' communicative goals and language production pressures (among other factors). Two eye-tracked picture description experiments tested whether the time course of formulation is also modulated by grammatical structure and thus whether differe...
Article
Full-text available
To what extent does perceptual language reflect universals of experience and cognition, and to what extent is it shaped by particular cultural preoccupations? This paper investigates the universality~relativity of perceptual language by examining the use of basic perception terms in spontaneous conversation across 13 diverse languages and cultures....
Chapter
Full-text available
This chapter takes an interdisciplinary, international perspective, focusing on studies with cross-linguistic and culturally embedded approaches to how children learn language and culture. It provide a selective review emphasizing a number of themes: effects of variable language structures and of variable interactional styles on the acquisition of...
Chapter
This paper addresses the theories of Eve Clark about how children learn word meanings in western middle-class interactional contexts by examining child language data from a Tzeltal Maya society in southern Mexico where interaction patterns are radically different. Through examples of caregiver interactions with children 12-30 months old, I ask what...
Chapter
The systematic study of kinesics, gaze, and gestural aspects of communication in Central American cultures is a recent phenomenon, most of it focussing on the Mayan cultures of southern Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize. This article surveys ethnographic observations and research reports on bodily aspects of speaking in three domains: gaze and kinesics...
Chapter
Full-text available
A comparison of conversation in twenty-one languages from around the world reveals commonalities and differences in the way that people do open-class other-initiation of repair (Schegloff, Jefferson, and Sacks, 1977; Drew, 1997). We find that speakers of all of the spoken languages in the sample make use of a primary interjection strategy (in Engli...
Chapter
Full-text available
This paper presents results of a comparative project documenting the development of verbal agreement inflections in children learning four different Mayan languages: K’iche’, Tzeltal, Tzotzil, and Yukatek. These languages have similar inflectional paradigms: they have a generally agglutinative morphology, with transitive verbs obligatorily marked w...
Article
Full-text available
Linguistic expressions of time often draw on spatial language, which raises the question of whether cultural specificity in spatial language and cognition is reflected in thinking about time. In the Mayan language Tzeltal, spatial language relies heavily on an absolute frame of reference utilizing the overall slope of the land, distinguishing an "u...
Chapter
This paper examines the verbs and other spatial vocabulary used for describing events of ‘putting’ and ‘taking’ in Tzeltal (Mayan). I discuss the semantics of different ‘put’ and ‘take’ verbs, the constructions they occur in, and the extensional patterns of verbs used in ‘put’ (Goal-oriented) vs. ‘take’ (Source-oriented) descriptions. A relatively...
Chapter
This paper describes the linguistic treatment of placement events in the Rossel Island (Papua New Guinea) language Yélî Dnye. Yélî Dnye is unusual in treating PUT and TAKE events symmetrically with a remarkable consistency. In what follows, we first provide a brief background for the language, then describe the six core PUT/TAKE verbs that were dra...
Chapter
IntroductionJoint Attention in Infant - Caregiver Interaction in the First 12 MonthsInteractional Studies of Attention Management and Infant Pointing, 12 - 18 MonthsComparative Study of Caregiver - Infant InteractionConclusions References
Article
Within a given language and culture, distinct sensory modalities are often given differential linguistic treatment in ways reflecting cultural ideas about, and uses for, the senses. This article reports on sensory expressions in the Mayan language Tzeltal, spoken in southeastern Mexico. Drawing both on data derived from Tzeltal consultants' respons...
Chapter
Full-text available
The concept of 'event' has been posited as an ontological primitive in natural language semantics, yet relatively little research has explored patterns of event encoding. Our study explored how adults and children describe placement events (e.g., putting a book on a table) in a range of different languages (Finnish, English, German, Russian, Hindi,...
Article
This paper reports the results of a study of Tzeltal questions and their responses, based on a collection of 419 question/response sequences drawn from video recordings of ‘maximally casual’ naturally occurring face-to-face interactions in a Tzeltal (Mayan) community. I describe the lexical and grammatical resources for formulating content and pola...
Article
Full-text available
Informal verbal interaction is the core matrix for human social life. A mechanism for coordinating this basic mode of interaction is a system of turn-taking that regulates who is to speak and when. Yet relatively little is known about how this system varies across cultures. The anthropological literature reports significant cultural differences in...
Article
The structure of relative clauses has attracted considerable attention in recent years, and a number of authors have carried out analyses of the syntax of relativization. In our investigation of syntactic structure and change in New Guinea Tok Pisin, we find that the basic processes involved in relativization have much broader discourse functions,...
Article
Full-text available
The present study examines young children's uses of semantically specific and general relational containment terms (e.g. in, enter) in Hindi and Tzeltal, and the extent to which their usage patterns are influenced by input frequency. We hypothesize that if children have a preference for relational terms that are semantically specific, this will be...
Article
Speakers of the Mayan language Tzeltal use two frames of reference for spatial reckoning: an absolute system (based on the south/north axis abstracted from the overall slope of the land) and an intrinsic system utilizing spatial axes of the reference object to establish body parts. This paper examines the use of absolute, intrinsic, and landmark cu...
Article
Full-text available
“There is nothing so brutally shocking, nor so little forgiven, as seeming inattention to the person who is speaking to you […] I have seen many people who, when you are speaking to them, instead of looking at, and attending you, fix their eyes upon the ceiling or some other part of the room […] Nothing discovers a little, futile, frivolous mind mo...
Article
The Tzeltal language is spoken in a mountainous region of southern Mexico by some 280,000 Mayan corn farmers. This paper focuses on landscape and place vocabulary in the Tzeltal municipio of Tenejapa, where speakers use an absolute system of spatial reckoning based on the overall uphill (southward)/downhill (northward) slope of the land. The paper...
Book
This book offers an interdisciplinary perspective on verb argument structure and its role in language acquisition. Much contemporary work in linguistics and psychology assumes that argument structure is strongly constrained by a set of universal principles, and that these principles are innate, providing children with certain “bootstrapping” strate...
Chapter
This chapter outlines two influential "bootstrapping" proposals that draw on presumed universals of argument structure to account for young children's acquisition of grammar (semantic bootstrapping) and verb meaning (syntactic bootstrapping), discusses controversial issues raised by these proposals, and summarizes the new insights contributed to th...
Chapter
How do children learn a language whose arguments are freely ellipsed? The Mayan language Tzeltal, spoken in southern Mexico, is such a language. The acquisition pattern for Tzeltal is distinctive, in at least two ways: verbs predominate even in children’s very early production vocabulary, and these verbs are often very specific in meaning. This run...
Chapter
Worte verletzen und kränken. Woher aber kommt diese Verletzungsmacht? Während in der deutschsprachigen Philosophie Sprache meist als Gegenmittel zur Gewalt begriffen wird, hat die US-amerikanische Debatte um ›hate speech‹ gezeigt, dass das Sprechen Gewalt nicht nur androhen oder verhindern, sondern selbst eine Form von Gewaltausübung sein kann. Wie...
Article
Full-text available
This issue investigates the linguistic encoding of events with three or more participants from the perspectives of language typology and acquisition. Such "multiple-participant events" include (but are not limited to) any scenario involving at least three participants, typically encoded using transactional verbs like 'give' and 'show', placement ve...
Article
This paper describes the lexical resources for expressing events of cutting and breaking (C&B hereafter) in the Mayan language Tzeltal. This no-tional set of verbs is not a class in any grammatical sense; C&B verbs are formally undistinguishable from many other transitive state-change verbs. But they nicely reveal the characteristic specificity of...
Article
Full-text available
The Mayan languages Tzeltal and Yucatec have large form classes of ''dis- positional'' roots which lexicalize spatial properties such as orientation, support/suspension/blockage of motion, and configurations of parts of an entity with respect to other parts. But speakers of the two languages deploy this common lexical resource quite dierently. The...
Article
In S. K. Herrmann, S. Kraemer, & H. Kuch (Eds.), Verletzende Worte: Die Grammatik sprachlicher Missachtung (pp. 59-88). Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag.
Chapter
This paper focuses on ‘minimality’ in initial references to persons in the Mayan language Tzeltal, spoken in southern Mexico. Inspection of initial person-referring expressions in 25 Tzeltal videotaped conversations reveals that, in this language, if speaker and/or recipient are related through ‘kinship’ to the referent, a kin term (or other relati...
Chapter
Three-place predicates are an important locus for examining how children acquire argument structure and how this process is influenced by the typology of the language they are learning as well as by culturally-specific semantic categories. From a typological perspective, there is reason to expect children to have some trouble expressing three-parti...
Chapter
Full-text available
This paper compares the acquisition of verb morphology in five Mayan languages, using a comparative method based on historical linguistics to establish precise equivalences between linguistic categories in the five languages. Earlier work on the acquisition of these languages, based on examination of longitudinal samples of naturally-occuring child...
Article
This paper addresses the vexed questions of how language relates to culture, and what kind of notion of culture is important for linguistic explanation. I first sketch five perspectives - five different construals - of culture apparent in linguistics and in cognitive science more generally. These are: (i) culture as ethno-linguistic group, (ii) cul...
Chapter
This paper surveys the lexical and grammatical resources for talking about spatial relations in the Mayan language Tzeltal - for describing where things are located, where they are moving, and how they are distributed in space. Six basic sets of spatial vocabulary are presented: i. existential locative expressions with ay ‘exist’, ii. deictics (dem...
Chapter
Full-text available
How are events framed in narrative? Speakers of English (a 'satellite-framed' language), when 'reading' Mercer Mayer's wordless picture book 'Frog, Where Are You?', find the story self-evident: a boy has a dog and a pet frog; the frog escapes and runs away; the boy and dog look for it across hill and dale, through woods and over a cliff, until they...
Article
Full-text available
This study explores how adults and children describe placement events (e.g., putting a book on a table) in a range of different languages (Finnish, English, German, Russian, Hindi, Tzeltal Maya, Spanish, and Turkish). Results show that the eight languages grammatically encode placement events in two main ways (Talmy, 1985, 1991), but further invest...
Article
In a famous paper Harvey Sacks (1974) argued that the sequential properties of greeting conventions, as well as those governing the flow of information, mean that 'everyone has to lie'. In this paper I show this dictum to be equally true in the Tzeltal Mayan community of Tenejapa, in southern Mexico, but for somewhat different reasons. The phenomen...
Article
This paper surveys the concept of culture as used in recent work in cognitive science, assessing the very different (and sometimes minimal) role 'culture' plays in different branches and schools of linguistics: generative approaches, descriptive/comparative linguistics, typology, cognitive linguistics, semantics, pragmatics, psycholinguistics, ling...
Chapter
The spatial vocabulary of the Mayan language Tzeltal is dominated by an Absolute system of spatial reckoning, whereby an "uphill/downhill" coordinate abstracted from the lay of the land is used to reckon spatial relationships on the horizontal in both small-scale and long distance space. This system is used in lieu of a Front/Back/Left/Right system...
Chapter
How are events framed in narrative? Speakers of English (a 'satellite-framed' language), when 'reading' Mercer Mayer's wordless picture book 'Frog, Where Are You?', find the story self-evident: a boy has a dog and a pet frog; the frog escapes and runs away; the boy and dog look for it across hill and dale, through woods and over a cliff, until they...
Article
Résumé RÉSUMÉ Anthropologie cognitive C'est ici l'occasion de faire le point sur les récents développements de l'anthropologie cognitive. définie dans ses grandes lignes comme l'étude comparative de la cognition humaine dans son contexte linguistique et culturel. En réaction à la prépondérance de l'uni-versalisme au cours des années soixante-dix et...
Article
When Tzeltal children in the Mayan community of Tenejapa, in southern Mexico, begin speaking, their production vocabulary consists predominantly of verb roots, in contrast to the dominance of nouns in the initial vocabulary of first-language learners of Indo-European languages. This article proposes that a particular Tzeltal conversational feature—...
Article
A major finding in studies of early vocabulary acquisition has been that children tend to learn a lot of nouns early but make do with relatively few verbs, among which semantically general-purpose verbs like do, make, get, have, give, come, go, and be play a prominent role. The preponderance of nouns is explained in terms of nouns labeling concrete...
Chapter
The surge of research activity focussing on children's acquisition of verbs (e.g., Tomasello and Merriman 1996) addresses some fundamental questions: Just how variable across languages, and across individual children, is the process of verb learning? How specific are arguments to particular verbs in early child language? How does the grammatical ca...
Article
In A. Kasher (Ed.), Pragmatics: Vol. 6 Grammar, psychology and sociology (pp. 488-554). London: Routledge.
Chapter
How do children isolate the semantic package contained in verb roots in the Mayan language Tzeltal? One might imagine that the canonical CVC shape of roots characteristic of Mayan languages would make the job simple, but the root is normally preceded and followed by affixes which mask its identity. Pye (1983) demonstrated that, in Kiche' Mayan, pro...
Chapter
In this paper I take up the idea that human thinking is systematically biased in the direction of interactive thinking (E. Goody's anticipatory interactive planning), that is, that humans are peculiarly good at, and inordinately prone to, attributing intentions and goals to one other (as well as to non-humans), and that they routinely orient to pre...
Article
This paper explores how static topological spatial relations such as contiguity, contact, containment, and support are expressed in the Mayan language Tzeltal. Three distinct Tzeltal systems for describing spatial relationships - geographically anchored (place names, geographical coordinates), viewer-centered (deictic), and object-centered (body pa...
Article
Full-text available
In the face of the prevailing assumption among cognitive scientists that human spatial cognition is essentially egocentric, with objects located in reference to the orientation of ego's own body (hence left/right, up/down, and front/back oppositions), the Mayan language Tzeltal provides a telling counter-example. This article examines a set of conc...
Chapter
In a critique of the current state of theories of language acquisition, Bowerman (1985) has argued forcibly for the need to take crosslinguistic variation in semantic structure seriously, in order to understand children's acquisition of semantic categories in the process of learning their language. The semantics of locative expressions in the Mayan...
Article
From the perspective of a Kantian belief in the fundamental human tendency to cleave space along the three planes of the human body, Tenejapan Tzeltal exhibits a linguistic gap: there are no linguistic expressions that designate regions (as in English to my left) or describe the visual field (as in to the left of the tree) on the basis of a plane b...
Article
From the perspective of a Kantian belief in the fundamental human tendency to cleave space along the three planes of the human body, Tenejapan Tzeltal exhibits a linguistic gap: there are no linguistic expressions that designate regions (as in English to my left) or describe the visual field (as in to the left of the tree) on the basis of a plane b...
Article
This paper compares some interactional details of a Tenejapan court case with the features of social interaction characteristic of ordinary, casual encounters in this society. It is suggested that courtroom behaviour in Tenejapa is a very special form of interaction, in a context that uniquely allows for direct face‐to‐face confrontation in a socie...
Article
Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of California, Berkeley, 1979. Includes bibliographical references (leaves 543-563).
Chapter
This study is about the principles for constructing polite speech. We describe and account for some remarkable parallelisms in the linguistic construction of utterances with which people express themselves in different languges and cultures. A motive for these parallels is isolated - politeness, broadly defined to include both polite friendliness a...
Article
The structure of relative clauses has attracted considerable attention in recent years, and a number of authors have carried out analyses of the syntax of relativization. In our investigation of syntactic structure and change in New Guinea Tok Pisin, we find that the basic processes involved in relativization have much broader discourse functions,...
Article
Robin Lakoff. Language and Woman's Place. New York, Evanston, San Francisco and London: Harper Colophon Books, Harper & Row Publishers, 1975. 85 pp. Bibliography. $2.25 (paper).
Article
Full-text available
The present study examines young children's uses of semantically specific and general relational containment terms (e.g. in, enter) in Hindi and Tzeltal, and the extent to which their usage patterns are influenced by input frequency. We hypothesize that if children have a preference for relational terms that are semantically specific, this will be...

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Projects (3)
Project
We investigate the development of semantic categories using standardized stimuli to investigate children's acquisition of the extension patterns of verbs and prepositions. 1. In our project on the acquisition of spatial prepositions, we use stimuli from the Topological Relations Picture Series (Bowerman & Pederson 1992), to address the question of how children develop spatial semantic categories over time. In addition to this experimental data, we also examine how spatial prepositions are used by children in corpora of naturalistic child-caregiver interactions that are available in the CHILDES database. 2. Our second project investigates the categories of 'cutting' and 'breaking' in children acquiring Tzeltal (Mayan), Mandarin (Sino-Tibetan), and Tamil (Dravidian) using stimuli from Bowerman et al. (2003).