Parallel Speakers

Dr. Carolin Ischen (CANCELLED)

Carolin Ischen is an Assistant Professor in Persuasive Communication at the Amsterdam School of Communication Research (ASCoR), University of Amsterdam. Her research is concerned with the characteristics of non-human communication partners and how these influence human interactions with them, as well as the persuasive consequences of these interactions (over time). From a methodological perspective, she is interested in how interactive and AI-driven technologies can be integrated in communication science research.

Conversational technologies in human-machine communication

Conversational agents such as chatbots are technologies that communicate with their users via natural human language. Nowadays, we can find conversational agents in many different critical domains, which include but are not limited to customer service, health, elderly care, education and training, or the provision of (daily) information such as the news, the weather, the fastest way to work, or which product to shop. The field of human-machine communication is concerned with how meaning can be created among humans and these conversational technologies. This implies that technology itself becomes a new and to a certain extent autonomous, interactive, and human-like entity instead of merely being a medium of communication. In this lecture, she will give an overview of the recent developments in the field of human-machine communication and give some insights from her own research on the persuasive potential of these conversational agents. She argues that conversational agents and the information they are providing are not neutral – most often they are designed in a way that they try to influence us to feel, think, and act in a certain way. This becomes most obvious when commercial organizations implement conversational agents to for example provide (personalized) recommendations. What does the rise of conversational technologies mean for the ways in which we communicate, and the ways in which we are persuaded?

Prof. Dr. Leonie Cornips

Leonie Cornips published her PhD dissertation in Linguistics at the UvA (1994) on syntactic variation in the speech community of Heerlen, a former coal mining town. Since 1994 she is affiliated at the department of Language Variation at the Meertens Institute, and since 2019 at NL-Lab, Humanities Cluster of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. She used to investigate linguistic variation in new developing regional varieties due to induced language contact situations between speakers of Dutch and local dialects and emerging varieties in the Netherlands such as Moroccan-, Turkish-, and Surinamese-Dutch. Cornips is also professor “Languageculture in Limburg” at Maastricht University since 2011 and since then her research has also focused on local identity constructions through language practices including linguistic place-making and belonging. At present she explores nonhuman animal languages problematizing the a priori distinction between the human and the animal. She conceptualizes language as a multimodal, embodied and multisensorial phenomenon from a posthumanism perspective. She is conducting ethnographic field work among industrial dairy farms in the Netherlands. 

Cows’ talk to each other, and to humans

In this talk she will present research examining how dairy cows communicate with each other and with humans. This research provides a new lens on the concept of language: instead of postulating a priori that ‘language makes us human’ or asking which species have language, this project “ask[s] how language actually works” (cf. De Waal and Ferrari 2010: 201). Therefore, she will present how language is embodied in dairy cow individuals in different situations when interacting with others. She takes seriously the idea that action, perception and attention affect language and thinking (cf. Vallée-Tourangeau and Cowley 2013). Drawing on fieldwork in an intensive Dutch dairy cow farm since fall 2018, the aim is thus to conceptualize the language of dairy cows. In addition to sound, she also includes movement, position and facial expressions (kinesics), touch (haptics), space (proxemics) and various sensorial capacities like smelling, seeing and hearing as expression of language.

This research is part of the animal turn (Haraway, 2016) in posthuman linguistics (Cornips 2019, 2022; Cornips & van den Hengel 2021) that questions ‘the assumed universality of human experience and asks how and why we draw particular distinctions between humans and other animals (Pennycook, 2018). Hence, western linguistics, in particular, contribute(d) deeply to the construction of difference between human and non-human animals by positing the ideology that language is what makes us humans human (Meijer 2019).

Dr. Marieke Woensdregt

Marieke Woensdregt is a computational cognitive scientist who researches the interplay between language, inference, social cognition, and social interaction. Language use relies on (i) flexible inferencing skills (e.g. to combine linguistic knowledge and background knowledge to infer the meaning of a novel word like “mask-shaming”); (ii) socio-cognitive skills such as theory of mind (e.g., to decide whether to talk about “the house” or “a house”), and (iii) interactional skills (e.g., to ask for clarification). She uses computational modelling to tackle challenging questions about these capacities and their interplay. She currently works as a postdoctoral researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics and the Donders Centre for Cognition at Radboud University in Nijmegen.

Computational modelling of social interaction and social cognition in communication (in humans and other animals)

Language use in humans requires both social cognition (i.e., taking your conversation partner’s perspective, thinking about what knowledge you share, etc.) as well as social interaction (e.g., saying “mmhmm” to indicate that you’re following along, or “Huh?” to indicate that you’re having trouble understanding). In this talk, Marieke Woensdregt will present computational modelling work that investigates the cognitive processes that underlie such communicative social cognition (also known as pragmatic reasoning) and social interaction (focusing on the phenomenon of interactive repair, in which breakdowns in communication are resolved). In addition to this computational modelling work, she will present a theoretical framework for investigating interactive repair in non-human animals, with some initial examples of how this framework can be applied to investigated communication in chimpanzees and bonobos.