Language resonance, recombination and imitation


Language – be it spoken, written, or signed – is a fundamental part of how we interact with the world and each other. It’s also an important developmental milestone for children as they grow.


Dr. Vittorio Tantucci from Lancaster University works on linguistic development, focussing on children from China and other cultures. His research examines the reasons and impact of how autistic children struggle to imitate and creatively reformulate others’ speech – an ability called resonance.


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Image Credit: Adobe Stock / XY





00:00:05 Will Mountford 

Hello. I’m Will and welcome to Researchpod. 

00:00:08 Will Mountford 

Language, be it spoken, written or signed, is a fundamental part of how we interact with the world and with each other. It is also an important developmental milestone for children as they grow the way we converse with others can tell us more than we think about how our brains work. Today. We’re speaking with Doctor Vittorio Tantucci from Lancaster University about his work on linguistic development in children from China and other cultures. 

00:00:31 Will Mountford 

We learn that autistic children struggle to imitate and creatively reformulate others speech an ability called resonance, which is very important to social engagement. So think as you listen, do you resonate with what other people say. 

00:00:48 Will Mountford 

And joining me from Lancaster University is doctor Vittorio Tantucci. Hello there. 

00:00:52 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Hi there, nice to be here. 

00:00:54 Will Mountford 

For everyone at home and for myself as well. Could you tell me a bit about yourself, your background and some of the steps in your career that have led to where you are now? 

00:01:06 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Yes, absolutely. I am senior lecturer in the Department of Linguistics and English Language at Lancaster University. I am mostly interested in language and social cognition. So when people think about linguists, they generally immediately think of the structure of language. 

00:01:25 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

These where the languages have nouns, verbs, adjectives and the like. I am interested in those things of course, but mainly I focus on the way languages are used and I employ computational approaches to look at how languages evolve through time. How do they? 

00:01:45 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Vary cross culturally and cross linguistically the way children acquire their first language. And of course I’m very interested in neurodiversity, so how the language spoken in autism may be somewhat different in comparison with the language spoken by neurotypicals. 

00:02:06 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

I’m originally Italian. I tend to do a lot of research focusing on the languages of the southeast of Asia, Chinese in particular. I did study Chinese for my undergraduate degrees, and then I decided to go to China to study my masters in linguistics there, and by the time I was lucky. 

00:02:27 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Or perhaps unlucky enough to be the only Western student at the university in Beijing, where I attended my masters, which lasted for three years. 

00:02:38 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

And then finally, I decided to continue my studies in the UK. 

00:02:44 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

The reason why I’m interested in Chinese and languages of the southeast of Asia is because they share very little with English Romance languages such as Italian. The language I speak as a first language in terms of grammar, in terms of the social underpinning of the way Chinese. 

00:03:04 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Speakers interact with one another being Chinese, a collectivist culture. This tells us a lot about the relationship between how we speak our own language, but also the social context and the social ideologies that determine the way we speak. 

00:03:23 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

One thing that I first realized when I was living in China is is that constantly expressing your own personal, subjective opinion about everything. It’s not very. It’s not considered very refined behavior, not very polite. It’s it’s too subjective to individualistic. Way to. 

00:03:43 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

To express your use. 

00:03:46 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

And there are many ways in Chinese that allow you to express what you think in a more shared and inclusive way. Even grammatically, that is something that I learned only living there, and perhaps these kind of experiences led me to focus specifically on the relationship between language. 

00:04:06 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

And social cognition. 

00:04:09 Will Mountford 

How many languages do you speak? 

00:04:11 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

And not so many Italian, English, Chinese, bit of Spanish, bit of French, a bit of Japanese, but. 

00:04:19 Will Mountford 

OK, that is 6. That’s still quite a few. 

00:04:22 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Fluently. I would say English, Italian and Chinese. 

00:04:25 Will Mountford 

Anything more than 1 1/2 it still puts you head and shoulders above most people at all. 

00:04:36 Will Mountford 

The paper that we’re talking about today is language acquisition amongst children with autism spectrum disorders, and before we get into all of the specifics, could I ask if you see that as a very narrow niche, very narrow point in one field or do you see it as overlapping between several other fields? 

00:04:53 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Well, I think this is a narrow research is a is a research that tackles specific ability, that is children’s ability to imitate the language of their parents or their fields. 

00:05:07 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

But this kind of research underpins really important issues in cognitive science by and large, in language. That is the degree to which we are able to replicate other people’s behavior. Whether this ability is genetically inherited, whether this informs. 

00:05:27 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

People’s cognitive neurodiversity, so. 

00:05:31 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Whether our ability to imitate others is impeded in the autistic spectrum, and of course the degree to which imitation also involves creativity, which is something that to the layperson may not be an obvious fact. 

00:05:47 Will Mountford 

Well, to start off with building some of the foundations for all of the kind of lay people in the audience, and I count. 

00:05:52 Will Mountford 

Myself among them. 

00:05:54 Will Mountford 

What is the foundation of language? What are kind of the building blocks to spoken language? Like if we start off with kind of the timelines of language acquisition, your typical milestones as a start and then we can branch off from there. 

00:06:09 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Since the 1950s, it was thought that humans are equipped with some sort of inbuilt hardware to speak languages and no matter your cultural background, no matter the country you were born, it was thought that we will be able to generate grammar and to generate. 

00:06:29 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Syntax independently to some degree of the input that we will receive. This is what. 

00:06:35 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

In the what is called? This is a theory that was put forward by the very famous linguist Noam Chomsky, who developed what is called generative grammar. So the idea that humans are able to generate grammatical sentences independently from words, and therefore this ability was thought to be. 

00:06:55 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Independent from other cognitive mechanisms, Simply put, it was thought that the way we think, the way we dream, the way we conceptualize the world. 

00:07:06 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Well, all these are mental models that are somewhat separated from our ability to generate grammar to generate sentences and structures well towards the 70s and the 80s. This approach was questioned in what is nowadays called cognitive linguistics or usage based linguistics. 

00:07:26 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

According to this framework, it is thought that language is actually acquired experientially so. 

00:07:33 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

The same way we experience love, sadness we experience and we learn how to walk. We learn how to ski the same way we learn any sort of other cultural expertise applies also to learning languages, and this distinction is quite important for the way. 

00:07:53 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

I tackle language acquisition and language learning because it entails the fact that the exposure to language and the input that we receive is the decisive is fundamental for the way we will learn how to speak and how we will learn languages. 

00:08:11 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Therefore, the idea of imitation becomes a fundamental characteristic of human behavior. But bear in mind, imitation is a very complex notion when it comes to humans. It’s not simply mimicking or parroting. Parrots can imitate human sounds, but as I hope we will understand throughout this interview. 

00:08:31 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

We will see that the way humans imitate is quite distinctive. It’s very special. 

00:08:37 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

And most importantly, is a creative phenomenon. So to answer ultimately answer your question, the way children learn language is through imitation of other parents, but also with the ability to implement a creative component in the way they imitate. So they imitate some kind of behavior. 

00:08:58 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

They see some similarity with some other forms of behavior. They then categorize more abstract forms of actions that derive from them. 

00:09:07 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

And as a result, they learn how to speak. 

00:09:10 Will Mountford 

And I’m thinking that that is what’s been termed in your paper as resonance, that there is the dramatic chunk of that behaviour, gesture, sound, which is then elaborated on in future versions. 

00:09:22 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Exactly. So resonance is a notion that was developed. It’s quite recent. It was developed in 2014 by a famous linguist called Dubois. 

00:09:33 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

And it really has to do with humans ability to reuse and recombine the linguistic input that they receive by their peers. And this is something that we might not realize. But throughout an interaction, whether we have, whether if it’s with among children among adults, we constantly imitate. 

00:09:53 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Our peers and our interlocutors, why do we do that? 

00:09:57 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

We do it to learn from them, of course. On the one hand, but also we do it for the sake of social conformity. So we do it as a pro social mechanism. If I imitate the persons that are around me, if I behave like them, that increases the chances my opportunities to fit into society, to be seen as. 

00:10:17 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

What we call normal, or at least a Member, a fair member of a group, product social group, ultimately we imitate one another interaction as a form of social. 

00:10:29 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Engagement. If I reuse the words that you say while we talk with one another, you will feel flattered. You will feel that what you said is relevant is important for the continuation of our speech, of our interaction, and that feels good. It’s a positive behavioral cue throughout linguistic behavior. 

00:10:50 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

And that is something that we tend to do very, very often. 

00:10:53 Will Mountford 

Is it the same structure and sequence in terms of exposure, acquisition and elaboration for second or third languages? Or is it kind of different between native tongue and later? 

00:11:06 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Well, of course there are cognitive differences between First language acquisition and second language acquisition. There is a critical period when we are very, very, very young, very little through which it is extremely easy to pick up languages. We can learn more than one language at once. We can become bilingual. 

00:11:26 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Very easily. For instance, in a bilingual environment, if our parents speak different languages and this is because we are getting to know the world for the first time, we are acquiring cognitively main categories of the world and that. 

00:11:39 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Combines with our ability also to resonate with the language and the the actions and the behaviors of our parents. Of course, things are a bit more complex when it comes to learning a second language. After like when we are adults. But again, the idea of resonating and recombining the language of others. 

00:11:59 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Always getting through what is called a conceptual pact with our interlocutors trying to verify whether what. 

00:12:06 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

He said is grammatical or acceptable, or makes sense to the eyes of others. That is also a key component of the acquisition of second and third languages. So the way children learn their first language starts from, of course, imitating their parents. 

00:12:26 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

And of course, by trying to focus on words and expressions in isolation, it is mainly a way language is a tool to achieve goals. 

00:12:37 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

So children are acquired to language so that they can get things done if they want a glass of milk from their mother, their mother, that is something that they will pick up very quickly and they will will pick up on different ways to express that because that is a very prominent goal. 

00:12:57 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

And very beneficial for them. 

00:13:00 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

So in a way, the way we acquire a language is originally quite a selfish process of learning. We try to learn as much as we can in order to gather as much as we can from the world. OK. And and this makes a lot of. 

00:13:19 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Makes sense really because as I suggested, language is primarily a tool. 

00:13:26 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

However, around the 4th, 5th year of age, we start to problematize not only what we want and not only how can we achieve what we want through language, but also how people may react to what we are saying. That is what in cognitive psychology. 

00:13:46 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Is defined as a theory of mind. 

00:13:49 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Which is the conceptual and cognitive ability to put ourselves in other people’s shoes technically is basically the ability according to which we do not simply look at things and the world from our perspective, but at the same time, we try to empathize with others. 

00:14:09 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

This has a tremendous effect on our language learning because we will start at that point to acquire a lot of new structures. 

00:14:17 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

And linguistic constructions that are there specifically to express empathy and to relate to other people’s viewpoint. You may we may start using, apparently at the beginning of a sentence, to relativize the factuality of what we’re about to say so. 

00:14:38 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Apparently tomorrow it might be. 

00:14:40 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Training in Lancaster. This is not the sentence that a child that is who is younger than four years old is very likely to say why, because they cognitively are not prone to problematize what other people may think about what, what they are about to say. So when we say, apparently tomorrow. 

00:15:00 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

It might be raining. It’s a way to say some people might have have told me, or it is. 

00:15:07 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Plausible according to myself, but also according to someone else, that this thing might happen, and this this kind of linguistic strategy underpins a theory of mind, underpins the ability to engage with not just with our own mind, but with the mind of others. And therefore. 

00:15:28 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

It it reflects a more sophisticated social cognition. 

00:15:33 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Well, in the case of autistic children, autistic children, disability remains impeded, so or at least partly so. Of course we know that autism is a spectrum, so children with autism and of course adults by all means tend to comparatively. 

00:15:54 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

They do struggle a little bit more to problematize how things might be seen, viewed, perceived. 

00:16:02 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

And experienced by others, and therefore when they interact with other people, they tend to focus on what they like, what they think is relevant, what they think is important, yet without paying much attention to what other people might find interesting. Pleasant. 

00:16:21 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

And so on and so forth. 

00:16:23 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

So there is a lot of passion. They are extremely sensitive. They love as much as us, if not, if not more. They simply struggle a little bit more in changing the perspective and adopting other people’s perspectives and viewpoints throughout especially. 

00:16:42 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Social interaction of whatever kind. 

00:16:46 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

There are also other characteristics that underpin that underpin ASD interaction. One of them is the comparatively scarce ability to process metaphorical meaning or idiomatic meaning. 

00:17:00 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

So imagine, for instance, someone in a very expensive boutique, the shopkeeper of this boutique. 

00:17:12 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Asking you may I help you in the moment where you’re holding a very expensive shoe? Well, if you if you were autistic, there is the possibility that you would just interpret this sentence as if you needed help with something without yet inferring that. 

00:17:33 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

The shopkeeper might be unhappy. 

00:17:35 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

With people touching very expensive shoes that are that are exposed in their shop, this is an example of how language very often is idiomatic. So we have more meanings that we can express with one single expression. We have a literal meaning that corresponds to the actual words that we use. 

00:17:56 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

But also we have meanings that we very often have to infer from the context because of politeness and therefore meanings that are very often implied. Well in ASD this ability is slightly more impeded. People across the autistic spectrum are more. 

00:18:16 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Comfortable with meanings that are more literal and more logical and more straightforward, whereas they have a comparatively harder time in processing meanings that involve some inferences or underpinning some implicatures that includes some metaphorical extension. 

00:18:36 Will Mountford 

Well, to look at the other factor that comes into play in your research and the paper that we’re talking about today for children, well, people with autism spectrum disorders and children, specifically when it comes to their language development and acquisition, are there any blanket statements we can say generally about how their experience? 

00:18:56 Will Mountford 

And how their acquisition typically goes, any statistics that we can bring to mind quick? 

00:19:02 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Well, absolutely. There is a vast literature on the way languages are acquired and learned in the autistic spectrum. People with autism tend to struggle in interaction in what is called turn taking, what is turn taking. Well now we are conducting an interview and we’ll sometimes you ask me a question. 

00:19:22 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

And I know where to answer where not to interrupt you and the timing of an interaction is often seen as a joint project. It’s like a dance. It’s like two people dancing. 

00:19:33 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

And when we dance with a partner, we need to be careful not to step into other people’s feet or same applies to playing a sport. Well, when it comes to dialogic interaction, people along the autistic spectrum struggle a little bit more, in turn taking in understanding the time in which they need to come in into an interaction. 

00:19:54 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

The time where they might run the risk of interrupting someone how to modulate also the tone of their voice in terms of intonation and prosody to sound more interest. 

00:20:05 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Thing and not to have perhaps a flat tone of voice. It has also been shown that in the artistic spectrum, people when they interact struggle a little bit more in guessing what may be relevant to the eyes and the ears of others. So very often they tend to discuss and say and share what is relevant. 

00:20:26 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

To them, their interests, but sometimes they struggle to project whether what they like or what they find fascinating might be also interesting for the other party that they are interacting with. Of course then there are other characters. 

00:20:42 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Mystics such as echolalia and the fact that people without this expection tend to repeat very often certain chunks of language. Certain words also on their on their own, without specifically wanting to share that meeting with someone. And there are other conversational characteristics that are quite distinctive. 

00:21:04 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Of people with ASD. 

00:21:10 Will Mountford 

He mentioned the echolalia there. Is there a difference that can be drawn between an echolalia response and kind of parroting, even if it’s not an immediate exposure of language, but repeating something that has, you know, become stuck in their process to the reciprocity and to the? 

00:21:29 Will Mountford 

Thematic repetition that we mentioned as being typical in language acquisition, are they similar, different, or completely alien? 

00:21:36 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Well, this is a very interesting question actually. Research has found that in the case of echolalia, it is thought that people with ASD are trying to train themselves. 

00:21:48 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Into reproducing certain sounds, also with a prosocial goal in mind. The idea that, like they are rehearsing a particular structure, a particular linguistic form because they like it, because of course a certain degree of anxiety that is associated with being able to. 

00:22:07 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Communicate with. 

00:22:08 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Others, but at the same time they do it so that they can feel that this can lead to social conformity. The fact that if they can learn that particular sound, that particular word, the right way, well, when it comes to actual proper naturalistic interaction with others, they will be prepared. And this is a key component. 

00:22:28 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

The key cognitive characteristic of people with the ASD is the idea of trying to rationally category. 

00:22:34 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 


00:22:35 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Every moment of their social life. So whatever for any kind of social interaction, they need to remember the kind of social cues that are required, what is necessary to be done in order to please others, to make others feel good. And that is because they intuitively struggle to do that. 

00:22:56 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

And therefore they need to do it. 

00:22:58 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Point by point, they need to learn it sequentially, and that is one of the reasons why people with high level autism are so incredibly smart when it comes to computational tasks. When it comes to long term memory, when it comes to, for instance, learning Chinese characters for to say. 

00:23:18 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

For one or to learn mathematics or many other characteristics of human cognition that involve a very detailed reiteration of knowledge and meaning, and not quite. 

00:23:31 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

This sort of like freestyle improvisation that is required throughout interaction and dialogue. When we engage with other socially. 

00:23:40 Will Mountford 

So it’s different from, say, the impulsive noise making that one might associate with Tourette’s syndrome or similar? 

00:23:46 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Exactly, exactly. It’s a completely different cognitive phenomenon when it comes to autism, and this is something that is also discussed in my paper. There is very often a competition between a conscious attempt of being social. So to follow all these. 

00:24:05 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Routinize social cues that people with autism need to learn throughout their life. Well, this is also is in combination with their ability to be creative. So they need to basically make a decision when it comes to social interaction. I will either resonate creatively. I will either like try to say something that is. 

00:24:26 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Insightful that corresponds to my view of the world in an interesting way in a critical way. 

00:24:32 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Say or, I will strictly follow all the social cues that I learned to be required in naturalistic interactions with others, so I will basically do the job. I will exactly. I will try to be social the way I learned in a more rational way. 

00:24:53 Will Mountford 

Yes, let’s draw some focus onto your paper and your research. I think what would be useful at this point would be putting some boundaries on what we’re going to talk about and quite exactly what we’re not going to talk about. So if there’s anything that we can say that your work does not address or does not give inference to, I think could you talk us through some of the limits to what we’re? 

00:25:12 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

One thing that my work has been focused up to today is verbal behavior, so I am concerned with what people say and this of course is very relevant when it comes to verbal imitation and resonance. So how do we reuse each other? Language? Things that my work doesn’t address, but which will perhaps address in the future? 

00:25:35 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Because they will be key for this kind of press. 

00:25:38 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

And also other aspects of human imitation that go beyond verbal imitation and verbal behavior, such as proxemics such as verbal gestures. All the kinesthetic component of human interaction. In fact, when we speak with one another, we do not just sound similar, we do not just adopt similar. 

00:25:57 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Prosodies and intonations, even dialectal, vary. 

00:26:01 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Relations, but we also use our hands in a similar way. We start to align a little bit by bit with our interlocutors. We do not in a way that corresponds to the one of our interlocutors and even the way we move our body. Perhaps the way we are seated, the way our physical posture. 

00:26:21 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Hence itself to align with the one of our interlocutors. Well, all of these behavioral cues that are extremely fascinating. 

00:26:29 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

For human imitation and what is related to that, the notion of mirror neurons, the idea that we neurologically are the keep with the ability of meaning, other people’s behavior, well, all of these are component of interaction is not discussed in the paper in question. In this particular paper. 

00:26:50 Will Mountford 

I’ve got the phrase here mechanisms of conceptualism. 

00:26:54 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Mechanisms of conceptualization have to do with. Basically the cognitive approach to language. The idea that the way we learn the language corresponds to the way we conceptualize the world. This means that if you go and do a survey of all the world languages, you will never find the language. 

00:27:13 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

That where it the expression the table is under the pen is more frequent than the pen is on the table. 

00:27:21 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Why is that? Because the way we conceptualize the world determines the way we speak, and therefore what is for instance, when it comes to sight in profile? What is that we focus on will be much more likely to be the subject of the sentence rather than an argument. So the House will be on the hill, but the hill will never be under the House. 

00:27:41 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

As the same as the bike will be next to the church but not the other way around. In very simple terms, the idea of conceptualization has to do and. 

00:27:52 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Throwing has to do with how do we transpose our cognitive ability to make sense of the world in language, and how language distinctively shows that and displays that. 

00:28:09 Will Mountford 

The paper that we’re talking about today. 

00:28:11 Will Mountford 

Is, well, it’s an international affair. To say that to you. Italian born researcher working in the UK are looking at autistic spectrum children in China and their language acquisition. If you could walk us through again a bit more about this niche about this language, about why it is significant in this paper and to you as a person, as a researcher. 

00:28:31 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

A point that I often make in my research and the reason why I find languages of the Southeast so fascinating is because they are equipped with the grammatical category that is called sentence final particles. Now these particles are these little characters that are often added at the end of. 

00:28:51 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Sentences of utterances. People use them all the time. They are all over the place. And what these particles do is precisely to regulate intersubject. 

00:29:00 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Activity. So what is intersubjectivity? Is speakers awareness of their interlocutors, potential reactions to what they are saying. It boils down to empathy. Really. We can say that the Chinese has a specific grammatical category, very sophisticated to regulate empathy in interaction to regulate. 

00:29:21 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

And to monitor how our interlocutors will feel will react as a result of what we are saying during the here and now of the conversation. As you can see, for the linguist who is interested in the human naturalistic interaction, like myself in pragmatics and cognac. 

00:29:40 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Linguistics. This is an incredible resource, because if we can focus on a grammatical category that specifically tackles that and we compare it, of course with other languages that do not have such a category, we can gather extremely insightful results about the way humans interact with one another and what are the resources that we draw on. 

00:30:02 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

In order to regulate empathy and to project what other other people’s feelings and emotions throughout an interaction, of course, what is found and what is something that my team discovered over the course of the years is that Chinese children indeed. 

00:30:19 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

The tend to acquire the ability to empathize with other people in interaction sooner than with their children, and that is because precisely of the language that they speak. They are trained since to regulate their thoughts and beliefs in combination with the ones of their interlocutors. 

00:30:39 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

As I mentioned before, it’s called theory of mind. It was developed towards the end of the 70s and now is perhaps the hottest topic in cognitive science the degree. 

00:30:50 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

To which humans develop the ability to empathize with others. Whether this is genetically inherited, or whether this is some sort of like a cognitive gadget, a cultural tool that we developed throughout our life is still an open question. And of course, by looking at languages that are somewhat grammatically. 

00:31:12 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Equipped with the category that specifically regulates that is something that I always found extremely relevant in my work. 

00:31:19 Will Mountford 

And to come back to what you mentioned about autism spectrum disorders and the sympathy the mirror neurons in physical language and the understanding of social context and social cues, I can see now why that empathy kind of chimes very closely between those two. So please tell me all about the research. Some of the scope. 

00:31:40 Will Mountford 

The surveys and the core questions that were investigated. 

00:31:43 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Absolutely. Specifically related to this. 

00:31:46 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

People with autistic spectrum disorder are believed to have a deficient theory of mind. What does it mean? It means that they struggle with empathy cognitively. They do feel emotions. They do feel love, they love their parents, they love their friends to to some degree, even more than the neurotypicals. But they struggled to put themselves in. 

00:32:07 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Other people’s shoes. And that’s why social mechanisms of naturalistic interactions. 

00:32:13 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Are harder for them, are more difficult for them. So what I tried to do in this particular paper was precisely building on the idea that, OK, Chinese children are better at empathy, they’re learning quicker than Western children. OK, what about their ability to resonate with others? 

00:32:34 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

And what about the difference between and your typical Chinese child? 

00:32:39 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

And Chinese children with autistic spectrum disorder. So are there some differences in the way they imitate others? Are there some differences in the way they empathize with others? Are there some differences in the way they learn language as a structural systems or the way they learn grammar? So in this particular? 

00:32:59 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Study we wanted to inquire just that. And So what we did was to retrieve thousand and thousand of utterances. 

00:33:06 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Of children speaking with their parents and we coded every time they were able to imitate what their parents said. We were also able to see whether this form of imitation, and therefore resonance was creative or not, and we were also looking at whether these children were able to use those. 

00:33:27 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Sentence final particle that we mentioned before, and therefore whether they were able to grammatically express empathy so, and of course we compared these two two populations we looked at neurotypical Chinese children, and we look at Chinese children with. 

00:33:44 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Autism and what we found was that whereas children with autism do not find it difficult to learn a language to learn Chinese as such, they don’t struggle with their grammar. They don’t struggle with their words. They don’t struggle with the ability of express themselves. What they struggle is to combine both. 

00:34:06 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 


00:34:08 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

And creativity when they are resonating with others. What does this mean? Is that Chinese people with autism, they either need to draw on their cognitive functioning to express creativity, to say interesting things, to say what they want, or to make an effort to be social with others. 

00:34:29 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

But they struggled to do both at the same time. On the other hand, neurotypical children displayed the same ability that we found in previous studies, and that is they are extremely good at extremely expressing empathy dramatically through those particles that we said about. 

00:34:46 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

They are very good at picking up cues from their parents and also at resonating with them and therefore overly engaging with the language of their parents and at the same time that is not an impediment for them to be creative and say what they think, what they believe about the world and therefore. 

00:35:06 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

This was quite a dramatic finding when it comes to research in autistic spectrum disorder. 

00:35:13 Will Mountford 

I don’t know if it is even possible for English language without that sentence. Final particle to kind of translate back from some of the snippets that you were recording. But are there any examples of sentences that might have that combination and creativity in one group versus the other that might kind of anchor this for the listeners? 

00:35:32 Will Mountford 


00:35:34 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

This is a very good point. Well, in English there are many phrasal ways, periphrastic ways to try to express this, because this is a universal human characteristic, the one of wanting to be to express empathy throughout interaction. So when we use phrases such as you know what I mean, do you know what I mean? 

00:35:54 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Isn’t it in English very often when we say our opinion that collocates with the sentence ending, isn’t it? So I might say Lancaster is a very rainy place, isn’t it? OK, if you think about this sentence logically, it doesn’t. 

00:36:09 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Sense because you are saying what you think, you wouldn’t question it. No, I think Lancaster is very, very isn’t it. But the fact that it if we look at a British naturalistic interaction every time we use the verb, I think the expression, I think it’s very likely that at the end of the sentence, isn’t it as a tough question will appear. 

00:36:30 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

And why is that? That is because when we express our opinion, we don’t do it like a machine. We do it with the goal of persuading our interlocutors. We hope, and we expect them. 

00:36:42 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

To be in agreement with us, and therefore we don’t just say what we think we say, what we think together with a bit of a particle like thing with a linguistic chunk that is there in order to trigger agreement, and so that we can coordinate, we can align and we can express empathy to one another. 

00:37:02 Will Mountford 

I think that is a a good way of kind of making sense with that as a phrasal comparison to the particle. 

00:37:10 Will Mountford 

My mind is racing with ideas and think back and how I talk and how I interact with people of. 

00:37:15 Will Mountford 

Oh, I do that a lot, actually. 

00:37:17 Will Mountford 

A moment to reflect there. 

00:37:23 Will Mountford 

Are there any ways that what has been observed in the Chinese autism spectrum chunks and recordings that you’ve made that can be extrapolated out to any other language? Does anything else have this sentence final particle? 

00:37:37 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Well, yes, the key point here is that Chinese is quite particular because these particles are a grammatical category similar to, I don’t know, tense or aspect or number in. 

00:37:49 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

But this doesn’t mean that other languages do not resort to similar strategies in order to express empathy. The example they made just before is just the case in point. Simply is not quite the system in those languages, so by all means, what will make sense will be to compare children’s ability to learn a first language. 

00:38:09 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

And to empathize with others because of the presence of those particles. 

00:38:14 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

With languages where empathy is not a grammaticalized category, and of course even more interesting would be to see and compare whether autism is somewhat more impeded among native Chinese speakers rather than among British English speakers or American English speakers. 

00:38:34 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Or speakers from any other part of the world. So what we found, as I mentioned before. 

00:38:40 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

There is that empathy tends to be more impeded among children who are not Chinese. What about autism? Is that also something that could be found significantly by comparing Chinese with other languages? My hypothesis would be yes, but of course this is something that we need to be verified empirical. 

00:39:01 Will Mountford 

And are there any plans for these follow-up studies or pursuing any other Ave. 

00:39:05 Will Mountford 


00:39:06 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Well, the idea now, something that we are working with my team is to expand the notion of resonance as I was suggesting at the at the beginning of our interview, beyond the verbal behavior. So not just words, but also to look at specific intonations, human behavior, gestures. 

00:39:27 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Eye gaze. 

00:39:28 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

And stuff like that. So to have a bit a more comprehensive account of the way human in imitate one another, why do they do that? To what degree? Imitation. Subserves. As we said, empathy, prosocial attempts to engage with others, social conformity and the the degree to which. 

00:39:48 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

All these multimodal cues of behavioral resemblance can inform research having to do with how languages are acquired in different parts of the world, whether, as we said, Chinese children are faster at picking up so. 

00:40:03 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Cues than, say, British children and the degree to which language plays a decisive role in this. 

00:40:10 Will Mountford 

Well, we’re coming to the end of the outline here and the end of our interview slot. So looking back over everything we’ve covered so far in the last 45 minutes or so. 

00:40:19 Will Mountford 

Is there any kind of summary or closing statements that you’d like to give? And I always put the question of who should hear this and what should they do with that information. 

00:40:28 Will Mountford 


00:40:29 Will Mountford 

To kind of bundle everything up. 

00:40:31 Will Mountford 

If there is anyone out there. 

00:40:32 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 


00:40:33 Will Mountford 

No, go right ahead. 

00:40:35 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Resonance and the ability to imitate as applications. Of course, in social sciences, in cognitive science, it is relevant in different aspects. A key component of resonance is the fact that it serves human reciprocity. Is the idea that we conceptualize things in the world not monadic. 

00:40:55 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Not as individuals, but we do it as a joint project in a joint effort. This is really part of a new. 

00:41:04 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Enacted turn in cognitive science that focuses on human cognition as a byproduct of social interaction rather than the ability of an individual to conceptualize the world. And this, of course, is related to studies in, for instance, social conformity politeness. 

00:41:24 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

And in politeness, people who resonate more tend to display higher engagement and therefore boost what is called the positive phase and what we could say the reputation of others make others feel better. So this of course has relevant. 

00:41:40 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

In various relevance in medical consultations, doctors who resonate more with their patients tend to get to better ecological assessment of their patients. Patients, disease because at the end of the day, a diagnosis is a joint effort that is realized by two parties, not just by one and the way. 

00:42:01 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

We resonate with one another. We try to reach a joint understanding and joint common ground that is realized verbally and vocally is fundamental in any aspect of social life. 

00:42:14 Will Mountford 

And if anyone listened to this, wants to find more from you and your team specifically, where can they find you? 

00:42:20 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

They can contact me at my institutional e-mail address [email protected], or they can consult my academic web page from my department, which is the Department of Linguistics at Lancaster University. We are doing. 

00:42:40 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Pretty well when it comes to research. At the moment we are tenting the world just to to brag a bit about our research and by all means, if you found some of the topics that we have been touching upon throughout this interview. 

00:42:52 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Interesting. Don’t hesitate to get in touch. 

00:42:55 Will Mountford 

Doctor. Santucci, thank you so much for your time today. 

00:42:58 Dr Vittorio Tantucci 

Thank you, will. It was a pleasure. Thank you so much. 



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