Program of the satellite VCL'13

Place: World Trade Center     Room: S12
Barcelona, September 19th 2013

9:00              Presentation of the Satellite

9:10              Modeling Language Contact: The Unbearable Lightness of Complexity

                    Lucía Loureiro (Universitat de les Illes Balears)     

Complex systems are all around us. Traffic jams, bird flocks, and the human mind are just three widely cited examples. In sociological research,     consensus problems have also been approached from this perspective (Ball 2004) and in this talk we will concentrate on one of them, namely language choice in a multilingual society. Stemming from the well-known works by Abrams and Strogatz (2003) and Minett and Wang (2008) we propose an agent-based model of language competition in which only two parameters are included: language prestige and speakers' volatility.

By changing their values we describe different sociolinguistic situations, such as language endangerment, language coexistence, and the emergence of new linguistic varieties. In addition, different topological distributions of agents are considered, within the approach of complex networks, such as regular lattice, small-world networks, and random networks (cf. Castelló et al. 2006, 2007, 2008).


  • Abrams, D.M., Strogatz, S.H., 2003. “Modeling the dynamics of language death”. Nature 424, 900.
  • Ball, Philip. 2004. Critical Mass: How One Thing Leads to Another. London: Heinemann.
  • Castelló, Xavier, Víctor M. Eguíluz & Maxi San Miguel. 2006. “Ordering dynamics with two non-excluding options: Bilingualism in language competition”. New Journal of Physics 8, 308.
  • Castelló, Xavier, Lucía Loureiro-Porto, Víctor M. Eguíluz & Maxi San Miguel. 2007. “The fate of bilingualism in a model of language competition”. In Shingo Takahashi, David Sallach & Juliette Rouchier (eds.) Advancing social simulation. The First World Congress. Berlin: Springer Verlag, pp. 83-94.
  • Castelló, Xavier, Riita Toivonen, Víctor M. Eguíluz, Lucía Loureiro-Porto, Jari Saramäki, Kimmo
  • Kaski & Maxi San Miguel. 2008. “Modelling language competition: Bilingualism and complex social networks”. In Andrew D.M. Smith, Kenny Smith & Ramon Ferrer i Cancho (eds.) The evolution of language. Proceedings of the 7th International Conference (EVOLANG7). Singapore: World Scientific Publishing Co., pp. 59-66.
  • Minett, James W. & William S-Y. Wang. 2008. “Modelling endangered languages: The effects of bilingualism and social structure”. Lingua 118: 19-45.


9:55             Complex Theoretical and Computational Models in Contact Sociolinguistics: How can we cooperate?

                    Albert Bastardas-Boada (Universitat de Barcelona)

Concurrently with the conceptual and “technical” development of so-called “complex systems”, there has also been a development of the “perspective of complexity” or of “complex thought”, which takes a more philosophical and epistemological line led, above all, by the French thinker Edgar Morin. This notion of “general complexity”, as Morin himself put it, lays the foundations for a new vision of scientific thought, which goes beyond the prevailing mechanistic, reductionist and analytical view. One of the contemporary tasks yet to be resolved, therefore, is how to find a way to integrate and exploit the mutual advantages of these two approaches to reality and to complex phenomena. In the sociolinguistics of contact, the complexity vision enables us to devise holistic and ecological theoretical frameworks that can give an account of the interdependencies and inter-influences of the various domains and factors involved in the dynamics of such situations. The contributions of complex systems should serve to galvanise methodological renewal, leading us to a deeper understanding of the constraints and properties of the phenomena of linguistic and cultural contact.

 10:20          The Impact of Social Reputation in Language Evolution: a Simple Simulation Approach

                   Gemma Bel-Enguix (Université d’Aix-Marseille)

This work aims to be a preliminary and small contribution to the study of coevolution of language and social structures from the perspective of complex systems and evolutionary biology, by means of simulation and mathematical analysis of results. The paper focuses on the role of social factors, especially reputation, in the arising and diffusion of innovation in language acquisition and interaction.


10:45          Linguistic Variation: Approach from the Perspective of Complex Adaptive Systems

                  Àngels Massip-Bonet (Universitat de Barcelona)

The purpose of this communication is to highlight the interest of CAS perspective for research in linguistic variation, and more specifically in historical and geographical variation. We emphasize what CAS can provide to HCL (Historical Cognitive Linguistics). We show examples of the new approach from historical Catalan language and we contrast interpretation differences between language view as an organism or as species and language view as a CAS.

We talk about language evolution, understood as the cognitive processes that give rise to cultural and linguistic change.
CAS approach considers language as an emergent phenomenon, “the result of activity, the collective, cumulative behaviour of language agents over time” (Frank and Gontier 2013:39).

    • Bernárdez, Enrique: “De monoide a especie biológica: aventuras y desventuras del concepto de lengua”
    • Christiansen, Morten and Simon Kirby (2003), Language Evolution . Oxford University Press.
    • Frank, Roslyn and Nathalie Gontier (  ), “On constructing a research model for historical cognitive linguistics (HCL): Some theoretical considerations” in  Verlag Walter de Gruyter
    • Geeraerts, Dirk and Gitte Kristiansen (2012), “Cognitive Linguistics and Language Variation” To be published in: Jeannette Littlemore & John Taylor, Companion to Cognitive Linguistics.
    • Heylighen, Francis (  ), “Self-organization of complex, intelligent systems: the ECCO paradigm for transdisciplinary integration”
    • Massip, Àngels (2003): Canvi i variació: de la dinamicitat de la llengua a la lingüística integrativa, en Miscel.lània Joan Veny, 2, Publicacions de l’Abadia de Montserrat, p. 5-18.
    • Massip, Àngels (2004): Lingüística y complejidad. Ponència presentada al Segundo Seminario Bienal Internacional acerca de las Implicaciones Filosóficas, Epistemológicas y Metodológicas de la Teoría de la Complejidad. La Habana 2004 i el resum publicat a Conversación. Revista de Educación y Cultura, num 7.Uruguay. Junio 2004.

11:10         Coffee break

11:35         A Comparative Study of the Effect of Consciousness-Raising and Input Processing on Some Specified Grammatical Form

                 Afrooz Arianfar and Parviz Maftoon (Islamic Azad University, Tehran, Iran)
The present study was inspired by the effectiveness of different techniques of focus on form instruction which have been concerned after the shift of focus on meaning- oriented teaching towards focus on form instruction. The study was conducted to compare the effect of two explicit focus on form techniques, input processing and consciousness-raising, in helping Iranian EFL learners to acquire some specified grammar structures (conditional sentences-type two, wish, and relative clauses). To fulfill the purpose of the study, sixty intermediate learners at Jahad Tehran University were chosen by means of administering an achievement test (PET). These learners were also pretested through a structured test to check their current accuracy level of six target structures. The pretest conducted in the study revealed that there was no significant difference between the two groups of EFL participants. After the pretest, each group received its own treatment. The first group received input processing (IP) and the second group was exposed to consciousness-raising (CR) tasks. After ten sessions of treatment, the two groups were posttested through the same structured test. The analysis of the data was done through repeated measure and t-test. Finally, it was concluded that IP group outperformed CR group in their performance to use the target structures on the posttest. The findings of the study also revealed that IP group had better gains than CR group in interpretation tasks. As the production performance, both groups were equal in their performance to produce sentences containing target structures on the posttest. Finally, it could be concluded that following activities after introducing grammar structures explicitly had an important role in learning the target grammar structures. As in the current study, IP (referential and affective) activities were more helpful in learning the target structures.         

12:00        Using Language, Using a Language and Using Languages. Common Knowledge in Conversation of Bilinguals

                 Roland Terborg and Raquel Acosta (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México)

Every person feels a certain pressure to communicate with other persons. Specially in the case of bilingual speakers this includes pressures as to how s/he communicates with other persons. To be successful s/he has to be creative in her/his communicative actions. In order to explain the creative and complex process of communication among individuals whose performance is the result of an intricate combination of pressures experienced by all participants, we propose an approach in which bilingual communication is seen as a super-network composed of smaller networks of directly and indirectly shared knowledge among speakers. We assume the successful communicative practices of such individuals to be based on a “common routine” which implies the combination of at least two individual competences. Thus communicative actions are the product of pressures that emerge in the context of personal and social histories. Our purpose is to explain multilingual and bilingual communication as the combination of direct shared knowledge (DSK) and indirect shared knowledge (ISK) within a social network. In many cases this is quite different than the concept of 'a language' in its normative sense.

What is seen different in our approach is the opposition of action to language. Action as a process is the outcome of individual and social pressures. These pressures are a combination of interests directed by needs, ideologies, values, believes and emotions on the one hand and on the other by the state of the world. This is the context that will be modified. The state of the world together with the interests is modifying the pressures which will lead to the action. So by pressures the context will be modified. In this way communication is seen as a complex process in an ecological system.

Sometimes language is still seen as a static system and sometimes language is seen as a dynamic system. The point of a static view of language may be convenient in some cases. But often the concept of “a language” does not really help us to understand how people are communicating in a creative and successful way. We would like to show how bilingual speakers are able to use their shared knowledge in a successful way in a small network. These speakers are using knowledge that is only shared among known people while “a language” is knowledge also shared by unknown people in a super-network.


12:25      Generic Framework for Simulation of Cognitive Systems: a Case Study of Color Category Boundaries

     Dariusz Plewczynski*1, Franciszek Rakowski*1, Peter Lewiński6, Michał Łukasik3, Konrad Kurdej4, Filip Leonarski1, Natalia Bielczyk5, Joanna Rączaszek- Leonardi3

     Interdisciplinary Centre for Mathematical and Computational Modelling1, Faculty of Mathematics, Informatics and Mechanics4, University of Warsaw; Amsterdam School      of Communication Research, University of Amsterdam6, Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre, Nijmegen, Netherlands5; Institute of Psychology2, and Institute of      Computer Science3, Polish Academy of Sciences; *contributed equally.

The generic model of an cognitive system is presented here, where a symbol couples dynamic behavior of two cognitive systems, therefore functionally constraining its function. In most agent-based models of communication, symbols are treated in the traditional manner – as entities that can be mapped to external objects. These models assume that semantics can be unequivocally ascribed to a symbol. Steels and Belpaeme (2005) analyzed the cultural emergence of colour categories using their original modeling framework. Agent-based model of cultural emergence of colour categories shows that boundaries might be seen as a product of agent’s communication in a given environment. We propose here the generic agent-based modeling framework of cultural emergence of colour categories shows that boundaries might be seen as a product of agent’s communication in a given environment. We therefore underscore external constraints on cognition: the structure of the environment, in which a system evolves and learns and the learning capacities of individual agents. We discuss the methodological issues related to real data characterization (World Colour Survey), as well as to the process of modeling the emergence of perceptual categories in human subjects.


12:50      Articulate While Black: Barack Obama, Race, and the (Style-)Shifting Politics of "Sounding Presidential"

              H. Samy Alim (Stanford University)

Barack Obama is widely considered one of the most powerful and charismatic speakers of our age. Without missing a beat, he often moves between Washington insider talk and culturally "Black" ways of speaking. But what does it mean to speak as a racialized subject in contemporary America? What does it mean to "sound presidential" in the New America? And what are the cultural, political, and educational implications of these shifting politics of language and race? Importantly, how can an analysis of styleshifting help us begin to answer these questions?

In this talk, I address language and racial politics in the U.S. through a critical examination of President Barack Obama's language use--and America's response to it. I will analyze several racially loaded, cultural-linguistic controversies involving the President's styleshifting--from his use of Black Language and his "articulateness" to his "Race Speech," the so-called "fist-bump," and his relationship to Hip Hop Culture. Using this analysis of Barack Obama as a point of departure, I reveal how major debates about language, race, and educational inequality erupt into moments of racial crisis. In particular, I show how Barack Obama's highly contested use of styleshifting represents a transformational shift in the racialized, classed, gendered politics of American English--and why we should all take notice.

13:15      Harnessing the Complexity of Social Phenomena 

              Carlos Gershenson García (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México)

The complexity of a system scales with its number of elements, number of interactions among them, complexities of elements, and complexities of interactions. Social systems have been increasing their complexity, as all of the previous factors have also increased. A generalization of Ashby's Law of Requisite Variety tells us that a controller requires at least as much complexity as that of the controller. Social organizations fulfill the purpose of managing (controlling) societies. However, if the organization is such that it depends on one or few people, they will be able to coordinate successfully a society with low complexity. It is because of this that social systems have escaped centralized management. Technology is offering an alternative approach, where the management of societies can be distributed among thousands or millions of individuals, opening the possibility to the efficient management of social systems.

14:00      Lunch