Colloquium: Animacy in language and cognition – Department of Cognitive Science (

Date: Wednesday, 28 September 2022 – 03:00PM-04:30PM

Title:  Animacy in language and cognition

Location:  DT 2203

Speaker: Ida Toivonen


 Biological animacy distinguishes between animate (living) and inanimate (non-living) entities. However, there is ample evidence from natural language that humans conceptualize entities according to a more complex animacy hierarchy, where humans, animals, inanimate things, and other entities constitute separate levels. In this talk I will provide an overview of cross-linguistic animacy effects. I will also discuss a series of experiments designed to elicit judgements about animacy in English speakers. I conclude that some animacy effects that are evident in natural language are directly encoded in the grammar, whereas other reflections of animacy are not part of linguistic knowledge but rather an indirect effect of our construal of the world.


Ida Toivonen is a professor at Carleton University who works on language.