High Desert Linguistics Conference-V
November 1 & 2, 2002
University of New Mexico

              Keynote abstracts

                   Ronald W. Langacker,
                 University of California, San Diego
"Unity and Diversity in Possessive Constructions"

The Uto-Aztecan languages exhibit considerable diversity in their expression of clausal possession. Their varied possessive constructions raise both descriptive and theoretical issues. How, for example,  can the use of such diverse grammatical structures to express the same basic notion be reconciled with the claim that grammar is symbolic and inherently meaningful, rather than arbitrary and autonomous? In view of their evident diversity, to what extent and in what respects can possessive constructions be given a unified characterization? These and other issues will be addressed from the standpoint of Cognitive Grammar, based on reasonably explicit descriptions of the constructions in question.


Barbara J. King,
College of William and Mary

"Gesture in Great Apes: The Dynamic-Systems Perspective"

The social communication of humans’ closest living relatives, the great apes, is mediated in large part through gesture and body movement. With a focus on nonvocal gesture and body movement in gorillas,
bonobos, and chimpanzees, I will discuss how the social communication of the African great apes is co-regulated and as such, best studied through dynamic systems theory.

Co-regulation means that two social partners create communication as they mutually adjust their actions to each other during an unfolding social event. Unpredictability and contingency are two markers of  co-regulated social events; such events, even those broadly similar in starting conditions and context,  do not unfold predictably from start to finish, and each partner’s actions depend critically on the other’s instant by instant. In other words, social partners comprise a dynamic system whose parts are internally related.

On this view, an arm movement is a social gesture not when an ape extends its arm, but when social partners  participate in an interaction mediated in part by the arm extension. Emphasis is put neither on possible  intentions of the ape gesturers nor on their inferred mental concepts, but on visible outcomes of the ongoing interaction. Using this basic approach, the linguist Charles Goodwin has studied mutual construction of sentences by a speaker and an audience, and the psychologist Alan Fogel has researched co-regulation in
interactions between human infants and their caregivers. In primate studies, however, a quite different model of social communication, the information-processing model, is dominant.

The information-processing model, which envisions information as transferred via signals sent between a  sender and a receiver, will be contrasted to the dynamic systems approach’s focus on co-regulation.
Videoclips from my research on the ontogeny of western-lowland gorilla gesture (and perhaps bonobo gesture if time permits) will illustrate the importance of co-regulation and gestural mediation in great  ape social communication.