Imagine a language that has a lexeme for every single wavelength of light in the visible spectrum. It would be maximally expressive because there would be no ambiguity about the color referred to by a speaker in the course of a conversation. Such artificial language would, however, be practically impossible to learn. In contrast, imagine another language with a single term for all colors: it would be very easy to learn…but not expressive at all! In between these two artificial examples are natural languages, which have developed a near-optimal trade-off between pressures for expressivity (imposed during communication) and compressibility (imposed during learning). In my work, I attempt to better understand how fundamental domains of experience like light, motion, body, and kinship are captured by meaning-making systems like language, gesture, or depiction in interaction. The aim is to identify the dynamic interaction of language, culture, and cognition causing meaning-making systems to vary in such a diversity of ways through time and space.
How can we explain that describing possession like the relation to one’s family member (my mother), a body part (my hand), or the tree that grows in one’s garden (my cherry tree) can be done with only 1 grammatical construction in English, 2 different ones in North Sámi, and 5 different ones in Paamese? Why do languages varies so much and at the same time so little? There are 7000+ languages in the world so why don’t we have 7000+ different ways of describing such relations?
These are the types of questions that my research addresses. My collaborators and I do that by designing experiments and by collecting a variety of data from different ethnolinguistic communities. Most of the data I work with comes from fieldwork performed on the island of Paama (Vanuatu, South Pacific) and in Sápmi, the territory of Sámi people that spans across four nation states (Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia), but I also led and published studies working with primary data from Pitjantjatjara, Thai, Telugu, Indonesian, Japanese, Swedish, English, and French.
- 2020 – 2022: MAPS Multifactorial Analysis of Possessive Structures: Mapping the interaction of language, culture, and cognition – PI – Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship (215,000 €)
- 2019 – 2022: POLYSEM – Polysemiotic Communication: Integrating language, gesture and depiction in three cultural practice – PI – The Swedish Research Council (411,000€)
- 2019 – 2021: PAAMSAND – Polysemiotic Communication in Paamese Sand Drawings: A Unique Intangible Cultural Heritage – co-PI – The Crafoord Foundation (100,000€)
- 2018 – 2019: BLACK SAND STORIES, a polysemiotic and multimodal documentation of Paamese sand stories, a critically endangered tradition of Vanuatu – PI – The Endangered Language Documentation Program (10,000€)
- 2016 – 2018: PATOM, Phenomenology And Typology Of Motion – Researcher – The Swedish Research Council.