User:Vuara/Evolution of Language

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+++ The University of Edinburgh announces a new Postgraduate Programme in the Evolution of Language and Cognition. What is it that makes us human? How did our brains evolve? What are the origins of human language? Why do we think the way we do? What are the mechanisms of biological, cultural and linguistic evolution? Human evolution is a topic for cognitive scientists, psychologists, linguists, archaeologists, anthropologists, biologists, and computer scientists. Because of this, the postgraduate programme will suit students from a very wide range of backgrounds. If you are interested in learning more about the evolution of human cognition and language, and about the many disciplines that contribute to its study, we'd like to hear from you. Recommended reading: Language Evolution, edited by Morten Christiansen & Simon Kirby, published by Oxford University Press. The subject What will I study? The programme covers a wide range of topics. Broadly speaking, you will look at how human cognition evolved in our species, with a particular emphasis on how language evolved. How do you study the evolution of cognition? We draw on our understanding of how human and animal brains work, knowledge about human and animal behaviour, evidence from genetics and child development, as well as data from the archaeological record (from fossil remains through to evidence of material culture). In addition, some people use computational models to test theories about how cognitive systems evolve. What counts as language evolution? Modern research in language evolution looks not only at how our species evolved to be able to use language, but also at how languages themselves evolve over time. How is it different from historical linguistics? This is a tricky question! There is actually no hard-and-fast boundary between the study of language evolution, and the study of language change/historical linguistics. Both subjects focus on the dynamic aspects of language. Historical linguistics, however, typically concerns itself with specific changes in a language or languages, and at a shallower time depth.


LI0058 Origins and Evolution of Language

Linguistics Honours Option, Prof. James R Hurford

Prerequisites There are no Honours prerequisites for this course. All 3rd and 4th year Honours students may take this course. Aims and objectives The course will show how understanding of all the main subdisciplines of Linguistics can be enhanced by viewing them from an evolutionary perspective. Thus, in cases where other approaches to language do little more than describe the linguistic facts, or at best explain them by stipulated abstract principles, Evolutionary Linguistics can often provide more satisfactory explanations by showing a route by which the facts could have arisen. In short, where much linguistics says `This is how language is', evolutionary linguistics attempts to say 'This is how language got to be that way'. The course will apply this approach to all levels of linguistic analysis, thus outlining areas aptly labelled as Evolutionary Pragmatics, Evolutionary Phonetics, Evolutionary Semantics, Evolutionary Phonology, and Evolutionary Syntax. In addition, the course aims to give Linguistics students a survey of the main issues in the evolution and origins of the human language faculty and of actual human languages. The subject matter is inevitably somewhat speculative, but the course will set out a basis of relevant facts accumulated from a range of disciplines within and outwith Linguistics, including animal behaviour, evolutionary theory, computer modelling, genetics, language acquisition, paleontology, archaeology Where facts are scarce, methodological questions about how best to proceed will be examined. After the course, students should be able to speak and write informedly and responsibly about the origins of language, know how to keep track of fresh developments in the field, and be able to put such developments in perspective.

Course content: Weekly topics and essential reading Note the following abbreviations for books frequently referred to in the reading lists:

HHSE = Lock, Andrew, and Peters, Charles (eds.) Handbook of Human Symbolic Evolution, Clarendon Press, Oxford. CEHE = Jones, S., Martin, R., and Pilbeam, D., (Eds) The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Human Evolution, Cambridge University Press.

October 6th, 9th: Introductory topics. Biological and cultural evolution. Phylogeny, glossogeny and ontogeny. Adaptation, preadaptations, natural selection, spandrels, linguistic selection. Language as the outcome of interacting complex systems. Readings: Hurford, James R. 2003 ``The Language Mosaic and its Evolution. In Language Evolution, edited by Morten Christiansen and Simon Kirby, Oxford University Press, pp.38-57. Hurford, James R. 1999 ``The Evolution of Language and Languages. In Robin Dunbar, Chris Knight and Camilla Power (eds) The Evolution of Culture, Edinburgh University Press. pp.173-193.

October 13th, 16th, 20th: Evolutionary Pragmatics. Social and soicio-psychological preadaptations for language. Acts, ritualization, mindreading and manipulation, theory of mind. Conveying practical information, gossip, courtship, deception, manipulation. Machiavellian intelligence, social intelligence. Group size, altruism, mimesis. Readings: Krebs, J. R., and Dawkins, R. 1984. ``Animal Signals: Mind-Reading and Manipulation, In Behavioural Ecology: An Evolutionary Approach, edited by J.R.Krebs and N.B.Davies, Blackwell Scientific Publications, Oxford. Haiman, John (1994) ``Ritualization and the Development of Language, in Pagliuca, William (ed.) Perspectives on Grammaticalization John Benjamins Publishing Company, Amsterdam, pp.1-28.

October 23rd: Guest lecture by Dr Kenny Smith. ``How learners shape culturally transmitted signalling systems. Language constructors, language maintainers, language learners. Reading: K. Smith (2002). ``The cultural evolution of communication in a population of neural networks. (PDF version) Connection Science 14(1), p65-84.

October 27th: Guest lecture by Dr Andrew Smith. ``Creating meanings and evolving communication. Concept growth, what the learner experiences, reference, context and feedback. Reading: A D M Smith (2001) ``Establishing Communication Systems without Explicit Meaning Transmission, in Advances in Artificial Life edited by Josef Kelemen and Petr Sosik pp.381-390.

October 30th: Video ``The Mind's Big Bang. Independent reading on human origins - Australopithecus, Homo habilis, Homo erectus, Homo sapiens, Neanderthal Man, tools, technology, social life, art, symbols, the `Upper Paleolithic Revolution', the human diaspora, Recent Out of Africa versus Multiregional Evolution. Reading: At least one of the following: Campbell, Bernard, (1996) ``An outline of human phylogeny, in HHSE, 31-52. ``Human Evolution, Chapter 2 of Corballis, Michael C. (1991) The Lopsided Ape: Evolution of the Generative Mind, Oxford University Press, 30-51. Wood, B.A. (1992) ``Evolution of Australopithecines, and Stringer, Chris (1992) ``Evolution of Early Humans, both in CEHE, 231-251. Section C of Chapter 5 (pp.246-274) of Human Evolution: an introduction for the behavioural sciences by Graham Richards, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1987. ``From Erectus to Sapiens, Chapter 6 of Human Evolution: an introduction for the behavioural sciences by Graham Richards, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1987. (pp.275-316)

November 3rd: Video ``Signs of Apes, Songs of Whales. Independent reading on basic genetics - genotype, phenotype, genes, loci, alleles, DNA, transcription, translation, polygenic inheritance, pleiotropy, sexual reproduction, haploidy, diploidy, mutation, recombination, epigenesis, embryology, plasticity, ontogeny and phylogeny, stable polymorphisms. Reading: At least one of the following: pp.255-283 of CEHE, comprising articles by D.Whitehouse --``Principles of Genetics, Steve Jones -- ``Genetic Diversity in Humans & ``Mutation and Human Evolution, Joy D.A.Delhanty -- ``Human Chromosomes, and Shahin Rouhani & Steve Jones -- ``Bottlenecks in Human Evolution. Chapters 2-9 (pp.10-61) of The Science of Genetics by Charlotte Auerbach Chapter 3, ``Immortal Coils (pp.22-48) of The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins

November 6th: Basic evolutionary theory. Variation, replication, selection. Units of selection -- genes, individuals, groups (memes). Gene-culture coevolution, the Baldwin Effect and niche construction. Sexual selection. Evolution of altruism and the cheater problem. Language and fitness (what is language good for?). Languages as symbionts on human societies. Reading: at least one of the following: Pinker, S., and Bloom, P. 1990. ``Natural Language and Natural Selection, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 13,4:707-727. Three chapters from John Alcock's (1984) book Animal Behavior: an evolutionary approach: Chapter 1 (``An Evolutionary Approach to Animal Behavior); Ch.2 (``The Genetics of Behavior --- skim this chapter); and Chapter 13 (``The Evolutionary History of Behavior --- pay special attention to the end parts on the evolution of communication). (less highly recommended) Three chapters from Edward O. Wilson's (1975) book Sociobiology: the abridged edition: Chapter 3 (``The Prime Movers in Social Evolution; Chapter 4 (``The Relevant Principles of Population Biology); and Chapter 5 (``Group Selection and Altruism --- this chapter would be the most relevant to this course).

November 10th, 13th: Evolutionary phonetics. Human and animal hearing compared. Evolution of the human vocal tract and fine control over the vocal apparatus. Reading: Two chapters from Philip Lieberman's book The Biology and Evolution of Language (1984, Harvard University Press). Chapter 11, ``The Evolution of Human Speech: Comparative Studies, pp.256-287. Chapter 12, ``The Evolution of Human Speech: the Fossil Record, pp.287-329.

November 17th, 20th, 24th: Evolutionary semantics. Animal concepts, simple and complex. The origin of predicate-argument structure. The origin of reference in deixis. The human semantic explosion due to symbols and compositional syntax. Reading: Wynne, Clive D L ``Other Ways of Seeing the World -- II: Abstract Dimensions, Chapter 5 of his book Animal Cognition: the mental lives of animals (Palgrave, Houndmills, Hampshire, 2001).

November 27th, December 1st: Evolutionary phonology. Evolution of characteristic phonological systems. Syllables, consonants and vowels as basic units of speech, distinctive features. Reading: At least one of Lindblom, B., MacNeilage, P., and Studdert-Kennedy, M. 1984. ``Self-organizing processes and the explanation of phonological universals. In B.Butterworth, B.Comrie, and Östen Dahl (Eds.), Explanations for Language Universals, Berlin: Mouton. 181-203. de Boer, Bart (2000) ``Self organization in vowel systems, Journal of Phonetics 28 (4), pp. 441–465 de Boer, Bart (2000) ``Emergence of vowel systems through self-organisation AI Communications 13 pp. 27-39.

December 4th, 8th, 11th: Evolutionary syntax. Animal precursors of syntax. Is recursion the key to human syntactic ability, and can only humans control recursion? Grammaticalization and creolization. Compositionality, rules with variables and generalization by learners. Self-organizing spread of compositional syntax across generations. Are syntactic universals specific to language? Reading: In order of importance (but they all important) Heine, Bernd, and Tania Kuteva, ``On the Evolution of Grammatical Forms, Chapter 18 of The Transition to Language, edited by Alison Wray, Oxford University Press, 2002. Newmeyer, Frederick J., ``Uniformitarian Assumptions and Language Evolution Research, Chapter 17 of The Transition to Language, edited by Alison Wray, Oxford University Press, 2002. Jackendoff, Ray, ``An Evolutionary Perspective on the Architecture, Chapter 8 of his Foundations of Language: Brain, Meaning, Grammar, Evolution, Oxford University Press, 2002.

Course structure Each week, there will be two lectures, and one tutorial meeting at a time (or times) to be arranged. The tutorial(s) will largely involve group discussion of the weekly essential reading. Discussion points for each tutorial will be handed out in advance. In addition to the weekly essential readings, all students will read one popular book on an aspect of human evolution during the term and contribute to a class presentation of a review of it (see below for details).

Popular book reviews Each student will belong to a group assigned to read and review a particular popular book on an aspect of human evolution. Group presentations of these book reviews will take place in a tutorial slot in weeks 6, 9 and 10. The books to be reviewed are:

For review presentation in week 5: Pinker, Steven, (1995) The Language Instinct, Penguin Books, London. Dunbar, Robin, (1996) Grooming, Gossip and the Evolution of Language, Faber and Faber, London. For review presentation in week 9: Mithen, Steven, (1996) The prehistory of the mind:: a search for the origins of art, religion and science, Thames and Hudson, London. Deacon, Terrence, (1997) The Symbolic Species: The co-evolution of language and the human brain, Penguin Books, London. For review presentation in week 10: Beaken, Mike, (1996) The Making of Language, Edinburgh University Press. Aitchison, Jean, (1996) The Seeds of Speech: Language origin and evolution Cambridge University Press.


One 2000-word essay or project, on a topic to be negotiated, deliverable on the first day of following term. Worth 50% of the assessment for the course. A 2-hour written exam in June, worth 50% of the assessment for the course.


Language acquisition and evolution

Special Issue: Adaptive Behavior

Call for Papers (pdf-format)

Guest Editor: Paul Vogt

Submission deadline: 15 November 2004

It is widely believed that language has evolved through mutual interactive behaviour of individuals within an ecological niche, through individual adaptations and self-organisation. Humans communicate with each other about events that happen in their environment. When novel events occur, they might construct new internal representations of these events - either by learning from other's behaviour or by inventing new behaviour. They can then transmit this newly constructed knowledge to other humans. By subsequent local interactions between individuals, self-organisation can guide the emergence of a global structure called language as has repeatedly been shown by several computer models.

Many computational studies on the evolution of language have primarily focused on the idea that language is a complex dynamical adaptive system, as outlined above. Central to these studies is the cultural evolution of language, i.e. language is thought to have evolved based on cultural transmissions rather than on biological adaptations. Cultural transmission of language is impossible without the ability to learn language. This special issue is inspired by a recent Symposium on Language Evolution and Acquisition held at the 2004 Human Behavior & Evolution Society conference, and focuses on the relation between language origins, acquisition and evolution. Two main themes to be explored are how could language acquisition mechanisms have evolved, and the impact that particular acquisition skills may have had on the evolution of language itself.

Adaptive Behavior solicits papers that present synthetic studies that explicitly focuses on the interface between language origins and/or evolution, and language acquisition. The models should involve either computer simulations or robotic platforms. However, those papers that integrate models with psychological, linguistic or biological data are particularly welcome. Papers in this special issue should not exceed the equivalent length of 14 journal pages. See the web-site of the Adaptive Behavior ( for further instructions.

Topics include (though not restricted):

Evolution of language acquisition skills. joint attention. corrective feedback. Phonetics. Lexicon formation. Meaning inference. Symbol grounding in language. Emergence of syntax or grammar. Language change. Language diversity. If you intend to submit a paper, please send a tentative title and abstract to the guest editor (Paul Vogt). (This would help to speed up the selection of reviewers.) If you are uncertain whether your paper would satisfy the topic of this special issue, or if you wish further information, please contact the guest editor too.

Important dates:

15 November 2004: Submission deadline. 15 February 2005: Notification of acceptance. 15 April 2005: Revised versions due. 30 May 2005: Authors notified (for revised papers). Late 2005: Special issue appears. Guest editor: Editor-in-chief: Paul Vogt Peter M. Todd Language Evolution and Computation Center for Adaptive Behavior & Cognition School of Philosophy, Psychology & Language Sciences University of Edinburgh Max Planck Institute for Human Development 40 George Square Lentzealle 94 Edinburgh, EH8 9LL D-14195 Berlin UK Germany


The Emergence of Language: Neural and Adaptive Agent Models

Guest Editor: Angelo Cangelosi

Connection Science is calling papers for a special issue entitled ‘The Emergence of Language: Neural and Adaptive Agent Models’.

Studies of the emergence of language focus on the evolutionary and/or developmental factors that affect the acquisition and auto-organisation of a linguistic communication system. Both language-specific abilities (e.g. speech, semantics, syntax) and other cognitive, sensorimotor and social abilities (e.g. category learning, action and embodiment, social networks) contribute to the emergence of language.

Key research issues and topics in the area include:

§ Emergentism as an alternative to the nativism/empiricism dichotomy

§ Identification of basic processes producing language complexity

§ Grammaticalization and emergence of syntax

§ Emergent models of language acquisition

§ Evolution and origins of language

§ Pidgin, creole and second language acquisition

§ Neural bases of emergent language processes

§ Auto-organization of shared lexicons in groups of individuals/agents

§ Grounding of symbols and language in perception and action

The main aims of this special issue are to foster interdisciplinary and multi-methodological approaches to modelling the emergence of language, and to identify key research directions for the future. Models based on neural networks (connectionism, computational neuroscience) and adaptive agent methodologies (artificial life, multi-agent systems, robotics), or integrated neural/agent approaches, are particularly encouraged.

The submitted papers are expected to: (i) focus on one or more related research issues (see list above), (ii) explain the importance of the topic, the open problems and the different approaches discussed in the literature, (iii) discuss the advantages and drawbacks of the neural and adaptive agent approaches with respect to other methodologies (including experimental research) and (iv) present original models and/or significant new results. Review papers may also be considered.

Invited Papers

The special issue will include two invited papers, one from Brian MacWhinney (Carnegie Mellon University) and one from Luc Steels (VUB University Brussels and SONY Computer Labs Paris). The invited papers are:

§ Brian MacWhinney, ‘Emergent Linguistic Structures and the Problem of Time’ (focus on neural network modeling)

§ Luc Steels, ‘Mirror Learning and the Self-Organisation of Languages’ (focus on adaptive agent modeling)

Submission Instructions and Deadline

Manuscripts, either full papers or shorter research notes (up to 4000 words), following the Connection Science guidelines ( should be emailed to the guest editor ( by December 1, 2004. Reviews will be completed by March 1, 2005, and final drafts will be accepted no later than May 1, 2005. The special issue will be published in September 2005.

Guest Editor

Angelo Cangelosi

Adaptive Behaviour and Cognition Research Group

School of Computing, Communication & Electronics

University of Plymouth, Plymouth PL4 8AA, UK

Tel: +44 (0) 1752 232559

Fax: +44 (0) 1752 232540



Related and Sample Papers

Cangelosi, A., and Parisi, D., 1998, The emergence of a ‘language’ in an evolving population of neural networks. Connection Science, 10(2): 83-97.

Cangelosi, A., and Parisi, D., 2004, The processing of verbs and nouns in neural networks: Insights from synthetic brain imaging. Brain and Language, 89(2): 401-408.

Elman, J.L, 1999, The emergence of language: A conspiracy theory. In B. MacWhinney (ed.), Emergence of Language (Hillsdale, NJ: LEA).

Knight, C., Hurford, J.R., and Studdert-Kennedy, M., (eds), 2000, The evolutionary emergence of language: social function and the origins of linguistic form (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

MacWhinney, B., 1998, Models of the emergence of language. Annual Review of Psychology, 49: 199-227.

Plunkett, K., Sinha, C., Moller, M. F., and Strandsry, O., 1992, Symbol grounding or the emergence of symbols? Vocabulary growth in children and a connectionist net. Connection Science, 4(3-4): 293-312.

Roy, D., and Pentland, A., 2002, Learning words from sights and sounds: A computational model, Cognitive Science, 26: 113-146.

Steels, L., 2003, Evolving grounded communication for robots. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 7(7): 308—312.

Wermter, S., Elshaw, M., and Farrand, S., 2003, A modular approach to self-organization of robot control based on language instruction. Connection Science, 15(2-3): 73-94.