About the Project

LANGBOOT: About the Project

Language and cognition have a close, but cryptic, relationship. Is language just another tool in humans’ diverse cognitive toolkit; important for communication, but not necessary for complex, high-level thought? Or is it language that allows us to form and manipulate complex thoughts in the first place? Distinguishing between these possibilities is vital to understanding our most fundamental cognitive faculties and the origin of modern human cognition itself.

The current project proposes that language bootstraps the cognitive complexity of the human mind by enhancing its ability to form and manipulate more elaborate mental representations than would otherwise be possible. In an innovative programme of investigation that uses cutting-edge methods from experimental psychology, psycholinguistics, cognitive modelling, and corpus linguistics, we examine how words interact with conceptual knowledge gleaned from perceptual and action experience across a range of fundamental cognitive tasks, including categorisation, memory performance, and abstract thought. We test whether and how language provides indispensable aid to cognitive processing that struggles to complete under time pressure or that strains working memory capacity, and how such aid could have influenced cognitive evolution.