Visual linguistics, and why letters are shaped the way they are

 

Visual linguistics, and why letters are shaped the way they are

Ricketts 211

Researchers interested in human cognition obtain evidence via experiments in the lab (i.e., cognitive psychology), but cognition researchers also acquire evidence by studying the linguistic utterances people make (i.e., linguistics). It recently occurred to me that for the study of visual perception this is not the case: although vision researchers acquire evidence via lab experiments (i.e., visual psychophysics), there is no discipline devoted to studying the visual utterances or productions people make (i.e., there is no field of "visual linguistics"). A visual utterance is any visual sign produced by humans, including writing. Just as linguistic utterances provide evidence concerning the potential kinds of cognitive computations underlying them (constrained by the motor acts of producing the utterances), visual utterances provide evidence concerning the potential kinds of visual computations underlying them (also constrained by the motor act of, say, writing a character). In the first part of my talk I will discuss the general aims of this "visual linguistics" research program, which I generally define as the study of the relationship between the visual system and human-produced visual signs. I will briefly describe the several threads I have followed thus far within this program, including (a) the complexity and redundancy of writing systems over history [1], (b) the hierarchical organization and economy of object-recognition cortex [2], and (c) why letters and other visual signs are shaped the ways they are [3]. In the second part of the talk I will take up in detail my ecological explanation for why letters are shaped the way they are. Namely, I will discuss evidence supporting the hypothesis that visual signs have been culturally selected to match the kinds of conglomerations of contours found in natural scenes, because that is what we have evolved to be good at visually processing. 1. Changizi MA & Shimojo S (2005) Character complexity and redundancy in writing systems over human history. Proc Roy Soc Lond B 272: 267-275. [www.changizi.com/char.zip] 2. Changizi MA (2006) The optimal human ventral stream from estimates of the complexity of visual objects. Biological Cybern. Under review. [www.changizi.com/vishierarchy.pdf] 3. Changizi MA, Zhang Q, Ye H & Shimojo S (2006) The structures of letters and symbols throughout human history are selected to match those found in objects in natural scenes. American Naturalist, in press. [www.changizi.com/junction.pdf]
Add to calendar
Share|