Carnegie Mellon University
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How Mental Models Encode Embodied Linguistic Perspectives

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journal contribution
posted on 2008-06-01, 00:00 authored by Brian MacwhinneyBrian Macwhinney
Humans demonstrate a remarkable ability to take other people’s perspectives. When we watch movies, we fi nd ourselves identifying with the actors, sensing their joys, hopes, fears, and sorrows. As viewers, we can be moved to exhilaration as we watch our heroes overcome obstacles; or we can be moved to tears when they suff er losses and defeats. Th is process of identifi cation does not always have to be linked to intense emotional involvement. At a soccer match, we can follow the movements of a player moving in to shoot for a goal. We can identify with the player’s position, stance, and maneuvers against the challenges off ered by the defenders. We can track the actions, as the player drives toward the goal and kicks the ball into the net. Th is ability to take the perspective of another person is very general. Just as we follow the movements of dancers, actors, and athletes, we can also follow the thoughts and emotions expressed by others in language. In this paper, we will explore the ways in which language builds upon our basic system for projecting the body image to support a rich system of perspective tracking and mental model construction.




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