A Multimodal Language Faculty

A Multimodal Language Faculty: A Cognitive Framework for Communication

by Neil Cohn and Joost Schilperoord

Natural human communication is multimodal. We pair speech with gestures, and combine writing with pictures from online messaging to comics to advertising. This richness of human communication remains unaddressed in linguistic and cognitive theories which maintain traditional amodal assumptions about language. What is needed is a new, multimodal paradigm

A Multimodal Language Faculty posits a bold reorganization of the structures of language, and heralds a reconsideration of its guiding assumptions. Human expressive behaviors like speaking, signing, and drawing may seem distinct, but they decompose into similar cognitive building blocks which coalesce in emergent states from a singular multimodal communicative architecture. This cognitive model accounts for unimodal and multimodal expression across all of our modalities, providing a “grand unified theory” that incorporates insights from formal linguistics, cognitive semantics, metaphor theory, Peircean semiotics, sign language, gesture, visual language, psycholinguistics, and cognitive neuroscience. Such a perspective reconfigures how we understand linguistic structure, diversity, universals, innateness, relativity, and evolution. A Multimodal Language Faculty directly confronts centuries-old notions of language and offers a compelling reimagination of what language is and how it works.

Released in June 2024

ISBN: 9781350402416

2024 / 400 pages

Praise for A Multimodal Language Faculty…

“Cohn and Schilperoord propose a true paradigm shift in how language should be understood and studied. The authors boldly re-imagine the nature of language and re-frame its scientific study by including the full range of human expressive potential. A ‘must read’ for language scientists!”
-Karen Emmorey, Distinguished Professor of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences, San Diego State University, USA

“Beautifully written, this revolutionary book provides a significant step in re-shaping our notion of human language faculty, its uniqueness and evolution by shifting it from an amodal to a multimodal one – where speech, writing, gesture, sign, graphics and drawings are conceived as expressive behaviors of one cognitive and communicative system.”
-Asli Özyürek, Director of Multimodal Language Department of Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Professor Radboud University, the Netherlands

“With its extensive and original attention to multimodality, i.e., the simultaneous mixing of different semiotic, communicative systems, this important book integrates modern linguistic and cognitive perspectives with innovating analyses of especially visual modes of expression, revealing significant structural analogies between these. A significant accomplishment.”
-Harry van der Hulst, Professor of Linguistics, University of Connecticut, USA

“This exciting book reformulates central problems in the structure of language, giving a coherent account of how sound, gesture, and graphic marks allow us to communicate. Building on Cohn’s foundational studies of comics and Schilperoord’s studies of time in language, it will captivate and edify specialists and linguistics newbies alike.”
-Jeffrey M. Zacks, Washington University in Saint Louis, USA

A Multimodal Language Faculty, the product of two decades of research, unites all human expression under the umbrella of multimodal language. Especially innovative and insightful is the embrace of artistic expression (music, dance, and visual art) as emanating from the same uniquely human ability as language.”
-Mark Aronoff, Distinguished Professor of Linguistics, Stony Brook University, USA

“Linguistics has been rattling the bars of its monomodal cage for some time. Now it’s out. Cohn and Schilperoord’s unified framework for vocal, bodily, and graphic modalities reconfigures linguistics as essentially multimodal from the ground up, effectively capturing a far broader range of actual human communicative behaviour and cognition.”
-John Bateman, Professor of Linguistics, Bremen University, Germany

Other books about Visual Language and Multimodality

The Patterns of Comics
Who Understands Comics? Book
The Visual Narrative Reader
The Visual Language of Comics
Early Writings on Visual Language