Rennie Pasquinelli presented at the Cognitive Futures in the Humanities conference, an international conference at the University of Helsinki in Finland. Pasquinelli collaborated with Brad Bolman from Harvard University to present on the topic of learning processes. Their presentation, Narrating the Birth of Narration: The Challenges and Possibilities of Fictional Representation of Language Acquisition, was given before an audience of their peers and professors from the university

The following is an excerpt from their presentation’s abstract:

We read transversally across contemporary research about language acquisition and fictional works that depict the process of children acquiring language as well as the emergence of narration — Gunter Grass’s The Tin Drum, Emma Donoghue’s Room, and Yorgos Lanthimos’s Dogtooth among others — in order to show the challenges “the poverty of the stimulus” offers to conventional narrative techniques as well as the possibilities for fiction to articulate language-learning in modes that allow for inventive understandings.

Pasquinelli’s paper on the subject dives into a comparison between the film The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974) by Werner Herzog and the nonfictional case of Genie Wiley. The film tells a story of a young boy who was locked in a small dungeon for the beginning of his life and then encounters the streets of Nuremberg with no ability to use language. Similarly, Wiley’s parents locked her away for the first thirteen years of her life until child protective authorities became involved. From that point on, psychologists raised her and taught her how to speak. Pasquinelli astutely observes that Herzog’s film “treats language as a medium of reflecting the body’s place in the world, its relationship to rhythm and song, and the subject’s ability to reflect upon their world.” Pasquinelli argues that this view conflates linguistic capacity and language instinct as readily available throughout one’s developmental process whereas Genie, who had aptly trained psychologists to assist her, never reached full linguistic competency.

While she may have been in Helsinki on business, Rennie thoroughly enjoyed her week-long stay in Finland by appreciating the beautiful architecture, delicious food, delightful people  and Helsinki’s energetic city life. In fact, Rennie enjoyed the city so much she plans to apply to graduate programs at the University of Helsinki: “ It's a great place to be and I can't wait to go back one day. I'm so happy I was awarded funding by the Weinberg Institute for Cognitive Science to attend this conference.”

As a junior Language and Cognition track student, Rennie stays busy with school work, volunteering, and research in several labs. During the summer, Rennie spent her time researching at the Boston University’s Center of Autism Research Excellence and worked on projects that involved handedness in children with autism and the McGurk effect. Currently she is a lab member in Professor Julie Boland’s Psycholinguistics Lab which is investigating turn-taking in conversation. Pasquinelli is also a lab member in Professor Ioulia Kovelman’s Language and Literacy Lab investigating bilingualism and literacy.

Rennie Pasquinelli embodies what it means to be an ambitious, intelligent and engaged cognitive science intellectual. The Weinberg Institute for Cognitive Science was proud to have her represent the University of Michigan at the Cognitive Futures in Humanities conference in Helsinki, and cannot wait to see where her future takes her. Way to GO BLUE, Rennie!