Understanding language and learning

Categorization is a cognitive process that allows us to perceive and understand concepts and objects, make decisions and interact with the environment. It is therefore one of the key factors in learning.

The research team Catégorisation et communication humaine et machine (Categorization and Communication in Humans and Machines), directed by Henri Cohen from Université du Québec à Montréal and which includes researchers in neuroscience, in psychology, in linguistics and in philosophy, is studying this phenomenon, and the team's work has had some interesting consequences. For example, a tool has been created for quantifying the simple past by type of ending, providing a better understanding of the acquisition process for this verb tense in native-speaking children and second-language learners.

The team has also begun a research program on linguistic change pertaining to the evolution of French syntax since the production of the first texts in French. To carry out their analysis, the researchers applied a methodology developed at the University of Pennsylvania permitting them to tag a set of texts from a given period, first morphologically and then syntactically, and thereby follow the evolution of linguistic changes over a long period. This work is providing a better understanding of linguistic changes and making it possible to identify the linguistic and statistical factors that play a role in grammar acquisition.

Other researchers from the team have shown that a complex cognitive environment, such as exposure to 3D objects, promotes and consolidates competence in a new skill (in this case, mental rotation) much more than information or a more simple cognitive environment. They are also carrying out a research project on healthy subjects and people with Parkinson's disease, with the goal of clarifying the mechanisms and limits of implicit and procedural learning. The results have already shown that people with the disease who have a procedural learning deficit show an impairment in consolidation rather than in encoding (storage), revealing the role played by the brain structures affected by Parkinson's in this type of learning.

These results are providing promising perspectives in various areas of learning and rehabilitation.


Catégorisation et communication humaine et machine


Henri Cohen, Université du Québec à Montréal

Regular members

  • Guillaume Chicoisne, Université du Québec à Montréal 
  • Stevan Harnad, University of Southampton, Royaume-Uni 
  • Marie Labelle, Université du Québec à Montréal 
  • Jean-Guy Meunier, Université du Québec à Montréal