03 October 2019: Pritty Patel-Grosz (Oslo), “Explorations in the semantics of dance”


Recent years have seen a resurgence of interest in research that applies formal linguistic methodology to non-standard objects of study. In an exploratory production study (using video and motion capture recordings), we investigate how co-reference and disjoint reference can be encoded in the narrative dance form of bharatanatyam, and propose that bharatanatyam dance makes use of rudimentary loci for reference tracking in a similar fashion to sign language. A follow up pilot perception study shows that audience members are able to distinguish between the two types of reference meanings. This contributes to developing a foundation for addressing the question of whether dance has meaning that lends itself to an analysis by means of a formal semantics.



Pritty Patel-Grosz is Professor of Linguistics, director of the Super Linguistics Research Group, and director of graduate education in linguistics at the University of Oslo. She was educated at University College London, and obtained a PhD in Linguistics from MIT. Her early interests include the syntax-semantics-pragmatics interface and psycholinguistics. She has conducted research on individual variables, agreement and anaphoric presuppositions. In recent work, P. Patel-Grosz advocates for the emerging field of Super Linguistics, whose goal is to expand the traditional boundaries of language and linguistics, by applying formal linguistic methodology to non-standard objects beyond language. P. Patel-Groszʼs current research proposes a unified semantic theory of body movement. In collaboration with musicologists and primatologists, she has explored the semantics of narrative dance, and illustrated its similarities to linguistic semantics; this research is now being extended to non-human primates.