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Mellon fellowship supports Dubreuil's studies linking language, literary thought and logic

Laurent Dubreuil, Cornell professor of Romance studies and comparative literature and director of the French studies program, has received a Mellon New Directions Fellowship of $274,000 from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The grant is to investigate the cognitive study of language and non-standard logic as part of Dubreuil's ongoing inquiry into links between language and literary thought.

The fellowship supports a year and two summers of research and study for scholars seeking to develop competence in new disciplines.

Dubreuil plans to further his studies of philosophy and cognitive science at Cornell, with courses and readings in deductive logic (which touches on mathematics), philosophy of language and cognitive psychology. He also will pursue independent study of negation and contradiction and the theoretical foundations of paraconsistent logic.

These studies will help Dubreuil examine the status of contradiction in thought and language and the power of signification in language for a book he is researching, tentatively titled "The Indiscipline of Literary Studies." Dubreuil has explored literary thought for more than a decade, in four previous books, several scholarly articles and in special issues of journals including the French publication Labyrinthe, which he edits, and the Cornell journal Diacritics.

"I would like to challenge my own theories," said Dubreuil, who came to Cornell in 2005. "Is there a possible bridge, say, from literary criticism and Continental philosophy to positive sciences? And what role could language play in this?"

He said he wants to observe the work of neuroscientists at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York and is also interested in an ongoing study of the brain and language by cognitive scientists, linguists and neurologists at the University of Chicago's Social Neuroscience Laboratory.

Dubreuil also seeks to test his hypothesis on language in literature and to learn how scientists and humanists engaged in related pursuits may use language in different ways.

"These fields of inquiry are separate now," he said. "We have to deal with what is generally understood as two cultures -- one scientific, one literary. I believe this separation is more related to distinct uses of language than to differences of 'cultures.' I'm trying to make the case for the importance of literature in language and in our way of thinking."

Dubreuil is the sixth Mellon New Directions Fellowship recipient at Cornell since 2002.

"We are very pleased that Mellon has recognized the excellence of Laurent Dubreuil's scholarship in the humanities, whose new direction promises to forge vital research exchanges between Cornell's historically recognized programs in critical theory, cognitive studies and the philosophy of language," said Timothy Murray, director of the Society for the Humanities, which administers the Mellon competition at Cornell.

The Mellon Foundation also announced a renewal of funding for the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute in the amount of $699,000. The institute's research interests include the financial challenges facing public higher education, the changing nature of the faculty, improving Ph.D. programs in the humanities and associated social sciences, the growing costs and importance of science to universities, and reducing inequality in access to higher education. For more information, see http://www.ilr.cornell.edu/cheri/.

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Nicola Pytell