Semantic typology as an approach to mapping the nature-nurture divide in cognition
One of the central projects of the cognitive sciences is the determination of which aspects of cognition are biologically determined – directly or mediated by neurophysiology – and species-specific and which aspects are culture-specific and learned. Semantic typology, the crosslinguistic study of semantic categorization in natural languages, plays a key role in this project. The task of mapping the nature-nurture divide in semantic categorization can be compared to the task of mapping early human migrations to their reflexes in the contemporary gene pool. Progress in semantic typology has been hampered by a longstanding bias in the cognitive sciences in favor of postulates of underlying uniformity and innateness, but also by the inherently collaborative nature of semantic typology and the multi-faceted training it requires. Funding institutions such as the National Science Foundation can and should play a key part in correcting this situation.