Jeff Elman: ” Words, words, words. What do they mean, anyway?”

Come see Jeff Elman give a talk today!!

Fri, May 16, 2014 • 3:00 PM – 4:30 PM • CLA 1.104

 I present this talk as a story. The story begins and ends with words, and it concludes with a proposal for a new way of thinking about the meaning of words. The suggestion is that words do not have meaning. Instead, words are cues to meaning.

The story follows four decades of research that led to this proposal (not to fear—it will not take that long to tell). It begins with the development of a computational mechanism to model time sequences, initially focused on words. Prediction emerges as a valuable tool for both learning and assessing learning, and ultimately leads to an unanticipated exploration of event knowledge, causation, inferencing, and language deficits. And from here the story returns to words and the development of the “words as cues” hypothesis.


Dr. Elman received his doctorate in linguistics from UT Austin in 1977.  He is the recipient of the Graduate School’s Outstanding Alumnus Award for 2014 and will be honored at the doctoral convocation on Saturday, May 17. Currently Dr. Elman is Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science at the University of California San Diego, where he serves as the Dean of Social Sciences. He is also co-director of Kavli Institute for Brain & Mind.

For the text of the Graduate School’s announcement of Dr. Elman’s awards, see:


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