Jackendoff and His People

This week I re-read the Jackendoff’s parallel architecture piece. I have to admit that there are still parts of it that I cannot understand, but reading it one more time resolved questions that I had from last semester. Jackendoff and his students work outside of linguistic field as well, such as comics and music. I found the research on comic is very interesting. It is also very rewarding by reading Jackendoff’s original research on parallel architecture on linguistics and the research based on this original one.

In Jackendoff’s article, he proposes one basic and important point about human being’s language competence, that is the f-knowledge. He thinks that f-knowledge of language requires two components: (1) finite list of structural elements, such as lexicon; (2) finite set of combinatorial principles, such as grammars. As oppose to generative grammar which consider phonology and semantics as secondary components of language under syntax, Jackendoff argues that meaning is not secondary and the generatively of language doesn’t completely come from generatively of grammars and syntax. I found a very good quote from his article where he explains what is “meaning”: “It is the locus for the understanding of linguistic utterances in context, incorporating pragmatic considerations and ‘world knowledge’… it is the cognitive structure in terms of which reasoning and planning take place. That is, the hypothesized level of conceptual structure is intended as a theoretical counterpart of what common sense calls ‘meaning’.”

Here I want to talk about one more interesting research his student Neil Cohn did on sequential image comprehension. I think it is a very good illustration about how semantics and syntax work independently but correlates to each other. In his article The Limits of Time and Transitions: Challenges to Theories of Sequential Image Comprehension, Cohn talks about when juxtaposing two images, it often produces the illusory sense of time passing, as found in the visual language used in modern comic books. He found out that any linear panel-to-panel analysis or loosely defined principles of connection between sequential images are inadequate to explain people’s understanding, “Sequential image comprehension must be thought of the union of conceptual information that is grouped via unconscious hierarchic structures in the mind.”

It’s still hard to understand entirely his research but I got several interesting take away from his research. One of them is to see how he breaks down the elements of comics:

(1) moment-to-moment— between small increments of time

(2) action-to-action— between full ranges of actions

(3) subject-to subject— between characters or objects in a scene

(4) aspect-to-aspect— between aspects of a scene or an environment

(5) scene-to- scene— between different scenes

(6) non-sequitur— have no apparent meaningful relation

If you want to learn more about his research, here is his website, http://www.visuallanguagelab.com/vitae.html It is a good way to understand Jackendoff.