Divergence and Reticulation in Cultural Evolution

That’s the title of my latest working paper. You can download it here: https://www.academia.edu/41095277/Divergence_and_Reticulation_in_Cultural_Evolution_Some_draft_text_for_an_article_in_progress.

And you can participate in a discussion of it here: https://www.academia.edu/s/9b97738023.

Abstract, Contents, and introductory material below.


* * * * *


Abstract: In a recent review of articles in computational criticism Franco Moretti and Oleg Sobchuk bring up the issue of tree-like (dendriform) vs. reticular phylogenies in biology and pose the question for the form taken by the evolution of cultural objects: How is cultural information transmitted, vertically (leading to trees) or horizontally (yielding webs)? Dendriform phylogenies are particularly interesting because one can infer the phylogenetic history of an ensemble of species by examining the current state. The horizontal transmission of information in webs obscures any historical signal. I examine a few cultural examples in some detail, including jazz styles and natural language, and then take up the 3300 node graph Matthew Jockers (Macroanalysis 2013) used to depict similarity relationships between 3300 19th century Anglophone novels. The graph depicts a web-like mesh of texts but, uncharacteristically of such patterns, also exhibits a strong historical signal. (Just how that is possible is the subject of another draft.)


Contents
What’s Up? 1
The need for theory: Cultural evolution 2
Trees, Nets, and Inheritance in Biology 4
Divergence and reticulation in culture 7
Jockers’ Graph, a reticulate network 18 Appendix: A quick guide to cultural evolution 22  


What’s Up?
In the past year we have had two reviews of recent work in computational criticism:

Nan Z. Da, The Computational Case against Computational Literary Studies, Critical Inquiry 45, Spring 2019, 601-639.
Franco Moretti and Oleg Sobchuk, Hidden in Plain Sight: Data Visualization in the Humanities, New Left Review 118, July August 2019, 86-119.

Though both are critical of that work, they are quite different in tone and intent. Da is broadly dismissive and sees little value in it. Moretti and Sobchuk see considerable value in the work, but are disappointed that it is largely empirical in character, failing to articulate a theoretical superstructure that deepens our understanding of literary history.

I’ve been working on a critique of those papers which seems to have expanded into a primer on thinking about literary culture as an evolutionary phenomenon. I’m currently imaging that the final article will have five parts:

  1. Genealogy in literary history
  2. Unidirectional trends in cultural evolution
  3. Jockers’ Graph: Direction in the 19th century Anglophone novel
  4. Expressive culture as a force in history
  5. A quick guide to cultural evolution for humanists

I have already posted draft material for the second part of the article, which centers on a graph from Matthew Jockers’ Macroanalysis (2013) [1].

That graph was my central concern from the beginning. It is the most interesting conceptual object I’ve seen in computational criticism, but it is easily misunderestimated and glossed over – as far as I know Da’s understandable but unfortunate dismissal is the only treatment of it in the referred literature. The problem, it seems to me, is that a proper appreciation of it requires a conceptual framework that doesn’t exist in the literature. My objective, then, is to begin assembling such a framework.

Moretti and Sobchuk didn’t mention it at all as their review was confined to journal articles. But it merits consideration in a framework that did establish in their review, if only barely. The invoke a distinction from evolutionary biology, that between tree-like (dendriform) phylogenies and free-form or web-like phylogenies, and suggest that it is important for understanding the relationship between literary for and history (pp. 108 ff.). Jockers graph is web-like network of texts but it exhibits an important feature of dendriform phylogenies, it displays a strong temporal signal. Thus a discussion of issues raised by Moretti and Sobchuk is a good way to begin constructing the missing conceptual framework.

This document consists of draft material for the discussion, the first part of the planned article, and the fifth part. The fifth part, the appendix is straight forward, and I have included it the end of this document. Once I have discussed the issue of dendriform vs. web-like relationships I introduce Jockers’s graph.

In the second part of the article, unidirectional trends in cultural evolution, I plan to say a few words about time and directionality. I will then take up a number of the examples Moretti and Sobchuk review in their article. While they don’t frame them as evidence for unidirectional trends, that is what they are. From my point of view that’s the most interesting and important aspect of their review, they gather those articles into one place. I will be placing those articles in the context of other work showing unidirectional trends.

I don’t yet know whether I’ll post draft materials on the second and fourth sections before drafting the whole article.

The need for theory: Cultural evolution

Now let us turn to Moretti and Sobchuk. Here is their penultimate paragraph (112-113):


Tree-like, linear, reticulate . . . why should we even care about the shape of cultural history? We should, because that shape is implicitly a hypothesis about the forces that operate within history; the tentative, intuitive beginning of a theoretical framework. ‘Theories are, even more than laboratory instruments, the essential tools of the scientist’s trade’, wrote Thomas Kuhn over a half century ago; too bad we didn’t heed his advice. Although the crass anti-intellectualism of Wired—‘correlation is enough’, ‘the scientific method is obsolete’—has fortunately remained an exception, what seems to have happened is that, as the amount of quantitative evidence at our disposal was increasing, our attempts at in-depth explanations were losing their strength. Disclaimers, postponements, ad hoc reactions, false modesty, leaving inferences ‘for another day’ . . . such have been, far too often, our inconclusive conclusions.


Ah, “the forces that operate within history”, that’s what we’re after, no? And we’re not going to get there without theory, yes?

I believe that that theory will be about culture as an evolutionary phenomenon. It is clear that both Moretti and Sobchuk believe that as well, but they do not introduce or frame their essay that way. They introduce it as a methodological inquiry into the use of visualization. It is only as the essay unfolds that evolution emerges as an ideational engine parallel to if not quite driving their interest in visualization.

Accordingly it is necessary to make some preliminary remarks about cultural evolution. Work in cultural evolution has blossomed in the last quarter century but:

While humanities and social science scholars are interested in complex phenomena—often involving the interaction between behaviour rich in semantic information, networks of social interactions, material artefacts and persisting institutions—many prominent cultural evolutionary models focus on the evolution of a few select cultural traits, or traits that vary along a single dimension […]. Moreover, when such models do build in more traits, these typically are taken to evolve independently of one another […]. Within cultural evolutionary theory, this strategy holds that the dynamics and structure of cultural evolutionary phenomena can be extrapolated from models that represent a small number of cultural traits interacting in independent (or non-epistatic) processes. This kind of strategy licences the modelling of simple trait systems, either with an eye to describing the kinematics of those simple systems, or to illuminate the evolution and operation of mechanisms underpinning their transmission […]. [2]

Hence, if students of literature want to think about culture as a phenomenon of evolutionary processes, we will not find suitable models and methods in existing work on cultural evolution. Though we certainly need to be aware of and conversant with that work, we are going to have to construct models and methods suitable to our material. That is the primary objective of this essay. To that end, then, I will be introducing a several of examples of work on cultural evolution in other domains.

Biologists, of course, has been developing evolutionary theory over the last half century. While they agree on basic issues, many details are still under contention. When we, then, as students of literary culture set out to adapt evolutionary theory to the analysis of literary phenomena, just what do we take from biological thinking and how do we do it? Various approaches exist in the general cultural literature, but this is hardly the place to sort through them – though I have prepared a brief appendix with pointers into those discussions. What Moretti and Sobchuk seem to have taken over is the distinction between tree-like lineages and more chaotic, network-like lineages. So that’s where I will start.

Where I am going, though, is toward an argument which says that that distinction is a reflection of the mechanisms that underlie the evolutionary process and it is to those mechanisms that we must look in adapting evolutionary theory to the study of human culture. Cultural evolution unfolds though collectivities of human minds, and they give cultural evolution a different texture, if you will, and different large scale patterns.


References

[1] On the direction of literary history: How should we interpret that 3300 node graph in Macroanalysis, Version 2, https://www.academia.edu/40550795/On_the_direction_of_literary_history_How_should_we_interpret_that_3300_node_graph_in_Macroanalysis_Version_2.

[2] Buskell, A., Enquist, M. & Jansson, F. A systems approach to cultural evolution. Palgrave Commun 5, 131 (2019) pp. 4-5, doi:10.1057/s41599-019-0343-5 https://rdcu.be/bVNtP.

A quick guide to cultural evolution for humanists

I’m currently working on a long article in which I review two recent critiques of computational criticism (one by Nan Z. Da and the other by Franco Moretti and Oleg Sobchuk). Moretti and Sobchuk introduce cultural evolution into their discussion, but don’t say much about it, and I’m suspect that their audience, and mine, is unfamiliar with current work in the area. Accordingly I’ve decided to prepare a brief appendix to serve as a guide. Since I will be citing my own work in my article, and further developing my views, I do not mention it in this guide.


Much of the recent work on cultural evolution is empirical; researchers count things and see how they behave over time. This work requires minimal commitment to a specific theory or model of how cultural evolution works. That is perhaps wise, as there is no consensus on how to relate the relevant biological concepts to cultural entities and processes. These questions can help you organize and sort through the different conceptualizations.

1. What is the target/beneficiary of the evolutionary dynamic?

Is it a human or collection of humans that benefits directly or is it the cultural entity itself. “Directly” is the key word, as humans must ultimately benefit, otherwise cultural evolution is just a waste of biological resources. To the extent that there is a “mainstream” approach it is something called “gene-culture coevolution” or “dual inheritance theory.” In this approach humans are the direct beneficiaries of cultural success.

When Richard Dawkins proposed the meme as a cultural replicator in The Selfish Gene (1976) he proposed that the meme itself was the direct beneficiary of evolution. This allows for a potential conflict between cultural and biological evolution. A cultural trait like celibacy among the religious, for example, would seem to conflict with a biological ‘imperative’ to reproduce.

2. Replication (copying) or (re)construction.

Independently of the first question, how is the cultural entity transmitted from one person to another? Is it a process of imitation or reconstruction? Genes replicate through a process of copying, hence Dawkins’ choice of a term, “meme”, to suggest that. He sees genes as cultural replicators, and many researchers agree with this.

In 1996 Dan Sperber published Explaining Culture in which he argued that, no, cultural entities aren’t copied. Rather they’re reconstructed. Hence instances will differ from one another.

3. Is there a meaningful distinction comparable to the biological distinction between phenotype and genotype?

As far as I can tell, this distinction has little meaning for those focusing on empirical work. They count what they can count. And it doesn’t seem to have much purchase among adherents of gene-cultural coevolution or dual-inheritance theory. For these investigators we have populations of humans on the one hand, and cultural entities on the other. At this level of abstraction those cultural entities are all of the same kind.

The distinction comes into play when you take the position that cultural entities themselves are the direct beneficiaries of the evolutionary process. Dawkins sometimes talks of memes as though they are comparable to biological genes, implying that there are phenotypic entities as well. Other times, however, he talks of memes as viruses, in which case there is no phenotypic entity. As far as I can tell, Sperber doesn’t make this distinction either.

4. Are the genetic elements of culture inside people’s heads or are they in the external environment?

Dawkins was ambiguous on this point in The Selfish Gene. There is a strong tendency to conceptualize culture’s genetic entities, if you will, as being inside people’s heads. Most meme advocates do, and I believe that Sperber and his followers do as well. But one can take another position, that the culture’s genetic entities are in the external world in one form or another. That’s the position I take.

What to read?

I would recommend that humanists with no background in evolutionary thought start with Gary Taylor’s Cultural Selection: Why Some Achievements Survive The Test Of Time And Others Don’t (Basic Books: 1996). It side-steps the theoretical mess around and about those four questions and discusses a lot of examples. I read it years ago and so don’t recall any specifics, but this publisher’s blurb seems reasonable:

[Taylor] argues that culture is not what was done, but what is remembered and that the social competition among different memories is as dynamic as the biological struggle for survival. Taylor builds his argument on a broad base of cultural achievements, from Michelangelo to Frankenstein, from Shakespeare to Casablanca, from Freud to Invisible Man. He spans the continents to draw upon Japanese literature, Native American history, ancient Greek philosophy, and modern American architecture.

What’s next? I would suggest: Laland, K. M. and G. R. Brown, Sense and Nonsense: Evolutionary Perspectives on Human Behavior, (Oxford University Press: 2002). That’s the edition I read, but there is a second edition published in 2011. Laland and Brown cover not only cultural evolution in its various conceptual forms, but evolution and human behavior more generally, including sociobiology, behavioral ecology, and evolutionary psychology. As I recall, the title is apt, sense and nonsense.

Then you might want to look at a relatively short document (37 pp.) giving summaries and positions articulated in a workshop Daniel Dennett convened in 2010. It was held at the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico. Participants: Dan Dennett, Susan Blackmore, Rob Boyd, Nicolas Cladière, Peter Godfrey-Smith, Joseph Henrich, Olivier Morin, Peter Richerson, Dan Sperber, and Kim Sterelny. They run through various issues centered on the second question above. The document is published by the International Cognition & Culture Institute (founded by Dan Sperber) as Cultural Evolution Workshop (2010) at this link, http://cognitionandculture.net/ebooks/. You can download it as a PDF or iBook.

For gene-culture coevolution and/or dual inheritance I would recommend Alexander Mesoudi, Cultural Evolution: How Darwinian Theory Can Explain Human Culture and Synthesize the Social Sciences (University of Chicago Press: 2011). This is only moderately technical.

If you want to further investigate memetics, you should start with Dawkins, The Selfish Gene. It’s been reissued several times; any edition will do. Read the whole thing, not just the memetics chapter; that will give you a better understanding of what was on his mind when he posited the existence of memes. Once you’ve read that you should read this paper, Jeremy Trevelyan Burman, The misunderstanding of memes: Biography of an unscientific object, 1976-1999, Perspectives on Science 2012, vol. 20, no. 1, pp. 75-104. Burman explains how the concept went from a relatively informal and ambiguous idea to the popular concept of a viral agent moving from mind to mind. Also look at Derek Gatherer, Why the ‘Thought Contagion’ Metaphor is Retarding the Progress of Memetics, Journal of Memetics-Evolutionary Models of Transmission, vol. 2, 1998, pp. 1-21, http://cfpm.org/jom-emit/1998/vol2/gatherer_d.html. Gatherer argues against the idea that culture’s genetic elements are entities in the brain/mind.

Dan Sperber’s book – Explaining Culture: A Naturalistic Approach (Wiley: 1996) – is relatively short and quite readable. He talks of an epidemiology of representations and adopts the term “attractor” from complex dynamics. A cultural attractor is a bit like a Platonic Ideal (though I suspect Sperber would reject the comparison); it is a form toward which cultural entities evolve according to factors of attraction. These factors might be some psychological preferences and/or environmental features that favor a cultural entity. This approach has come to be known as cultural attraction theory (CAT).

For a different take on the subject you can read Robert Wright, Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny (New York, Pantheon Books: 1999). Wright is working outside the nexus of the four questions I’ve listed above. He takes a long view of human history, from origins up to the present, and argues that we are moving toward ever more sophisticated modes of cooperative interaction. His title, NonZero, is a term from game theory. A zero sum game is one where one party’s gain is necessarily another party’s loss. A nonzero sum game, in contrast, is one where all parties can come out better than they were before entering into the interaction. Wright’s other point of departure is an empirical literature in anthropology and archaeology that dates mostly to the third quarter of the previous century. These scholars were interested in measuring the cultural complexity of existing, but also historical, societies and developed sophisticated statistical tools for doing so. Wright then argues that culture evolves toward more complex forms with more cooperative interactions between people.

As a bonus, you might want to look through the archives of the listserve associated with the Journal of Memetics – Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission, which was published from 1997 to 2005. It was an online journal, here: http://cfpm.org/jom-emit/. The list is archived here: http://cfpm.org/~majordom/memetics/about.html#archives.

Finally, the Cultural Evolution Society was founded a couple of years ago: https://culturalevolutionsociety.org/.

The computational envelope of language – Once more into the breach

Time to saddle-up and once more ride my current hobby horse, or one of them at least. In this case, the idea that natural language is the simplest aspect of human activity that is fundamentally and irreducibly computational in nature.

Let’s back into it.

* * * * *

Is arithmetic calculation computational in kind?

Well yes, of course. If anything is computation, that sure is.

Well then, in my current view, arithmetic calculation is language from which meaning has been completely removed, squeezed out as it were, leaving us with syntax, morphology, and so forth.

Elaborate.

First, let’s remind ourselves that arithmetic calculation, as performed by writing symbols on some surface, is a very specialized form of language. Sure, we think of it as something different from language…

All those years of drill and practice in primary school?

Yes. We have it drilled into our heads that arithmetic is one thing, over here, while language is something different, over there. But it’s obvious, isn’t it, that arithmetic is built from language?

OK, I’ll accept that.

So, arithmetic calculation has two kinds of symbols, numerals and operators. Both are finite in number. Numerals can be concatenated into strings of any length and in any order and combination.

OK. In the standard Arabic notation there are ten numerals, zero (0) through (9).

That’s correct.

And we’ve got five operators, +, -, * [times], ÷, and =. And, come to think of it, we probably should have left and right parenthesis as well.

OK. What’s the relationship between these two kinds of symbols?

Hmmmm….The operators allow as to specify various relationships between strings of numerals.

Starting with, yes, starting with a basic set of equivalences of the form, NumStr Op NumStr = NumStr, where Op is one from +, -, *, and ÷ and NumStr is a string of one or, in the case of these primitive equivalences, two numerals. [1]

Thus giving us those tables we memorized in grade school. Right!

What do you mean by semantics being removed?

Well, what are the potentially meaning-bearing elements in this collection?

That would be the numerals, no?

Yes. What do they mean?

Why, they don’t meaning anything…

Well… But they aren’t completely empty, are they?

No.

Elaborate. What’s not empty about, say, 5?

5 could designate…

By “designate” you mean “mean”?

Yes. 5 could designate any collection with five members. 5 apples, 5 oranges, 5 mountains, 5 stars…

What about an apple, an orange, a mountain, a star, and a dragon?

Yes, as long as there’s five of them.

Ah, I see. The numerals, or strings of numerals, are connected to the world though the operation of counting. When we use them to count, they, in effect, become numbers. But, yes, that’s a very general kind of relationship. Not much semantics or meaning there.

Right. And that’s what I mean by empty of semantics. All we’ve got left is syntax, more or less.

Sounds a bit like Searle in his Chinese Room.

Yes, it does, doesn’t it?

The idea is that the mental machinery we use to do arithmetic calculation, that’s natural computation, computation performed by a brain, from which semantics has been removed. That machinery is there in ordinary language, or even extraordinary language. Language couldn’t function without it. That’s where language gets its combinatorial facility.

And THAT sounds like Chomsky, no?

Yes.

* * * * *

And so it goes, on and on.

When the intellectual history of the second half of the twentieth century gets written, the discovery of the irreducibly computational nature of natural language will surely be listed as one of the highlights. Just who will get the honor, that’s not clear, though Chomsky is an obvious candidate. He certainly played a major role. But he didn’t figure out how an actual physical system could do it (the question was of little or no interest to him), and surely that’s part of the problem. If so, however, then we still haven’t gotten it figured out, have we?

* * * * *

[1] Isn’t that a bit sophisticated for the Glaucon figure in this dialog? Yes, but this is a 21st century Glaucon. He’s got a few tricks up his sleeve.

[2] Sounds a bit like the Frege/Russell set theory definition of number: a natural number n is the collection of all sets with n elements.

Language Evolution at the UK Cognitive Linguistics Conference

The UK Cognitive Linguistics Conference will be hosted at the University of Birmingham next year, July 27 to 30. This interdisciplinary conference is focused on the intersection between language and cognition, and it accepts submissions from all areas of linguistics, including experimental and computational research on language evolution, language origins, iconicity, and cognitive and functional approaches to historical linguistics.
The plenary speakers for this conference include Adele Goldberg (Princeton University), Caroline Rowland (MPI Nijmegen), Mark Dingemanse (Radboud University) and Gabriella Vigliocco (University College London).

The call for papers is online, with a December 30 deadline for 500 word abstracts.

Besides submitting to the main session, the conference organizers welcome proposals for pre-conference workshops, which can be skills-based workshops lead by single researchers or teams of researchers, as well as series of talks by different researchers on specific topics.

Call for Contributions: Public Engagement in Language Evolution session

Next year at EvoLang, I’m doing a short session on public engagement in Language Evolution. As part of this, I have been given a small part of the poster session to have a little exhibition/discussion corner about public engagement initiatives. As such, I am now recruiting contributions that outline existing initiatives. Contributions will use the 2-page EvoLang template (available here: https://www.evolang.org/submissions). Contributions should outline the initiative and make clear:

  • The objective(s) for the public engagement initiative
  • Reflections on success and areas for improvement
  • Good practice to be learnt from these reflections

Contributions will be reviewed in relation to space constraints, but I hope to have a good diversity of examples. Please email contributions to hannah.little@uwe.ac.uk before January 3rd 2020. Questions to the same address.

More context of the session is below:

Public engagement has always been an important aspect of academia. Breaking the barrier between research and the public can foster knowledge, equality, trust and accountability. On a more pragmatic level, funders increasingly require impact statements and plans for public dissemination. However, language evolution as a field has unique difficulties meeting these demands.

Evolutionary linguistics is difficult to explain to those outside the field. Much research presented at EvoLang has implications for our knowledge of human origins, but the implications for current and future humans often remain unclear, creating a “relevance gap”. Further, the abstractness of research based on models (computational or experimental) and not referring to concrete artefacts, fossils or living examples, creates another barrier for explanation. Since EvoLang started, many researchers have undertaken public engagement initiatives that address this relevance gap in different ways. 

In this session, we will explore existing and future objectives for public engagement with language evolution research. We will discuss ways to frame language evolution to make it accessible to the public, and present examples of good practice, as well as lessons to be learnt, from previous and ongoing public engagement initiatives.

Initiatives will be split into 2 sections, mirroring two (non comprehensive) models for public engagement: deficit and participation (Trench, 2008).

The deficit model sees the public as having a knowledge deficit and seeks to fix that through one-way communication. Typical examples are documentaries (e.g. Through the Wormhole episode “How do Aliens Think”, Sayenga, 2013) and science journalism (e.g. Babel Magazine, Little, 2018). Discussion within the session will focus on good practice around creating relevant and intuitive explanations for concepts within language evolution.

The participation model works on the principle that all participants in a public engagement initiative can contribute, and that all have a stake in the outcome. Many public engagement initiatives in language evolution have recruited members of the public as participants in data-collection exercises at public events including festivals (e.g. Verhoef et al., 2015), science centres and museums (e.g. Cluskley, 2018; Raviv & Arnon, 2018), or as games (e.g. The Color Game, Morin et al., 2018). While involvement as an experimental participant is a contribution, it does not necessarily create a sense of having a stake in the outcome, or even understanding the outcome. Therefore one of the key aspects of the session will be discussing good practice for increasing public understanding around these initiatives.

As a result of the submissions, a collaborative review paper of initiatives and best practice for public engagement in language evolution may be produced for submission to the Journal of Language Evolution. If you’d like to contribute to this, but cannot contribute to the session, please email me on hannah.little@uwe.ac.uk

References

Cuskley, C. (2018). Alien symbols for alien language: iterated learning in a unique, novel signal space. In The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 12th International Conference (EVOLANGXII). Ed. by C. Cuskley et al. NCU Press. doi (Vol. 10, No. 12775, pp. 3991-1).

Kirby, S., Perman, T. & St John, R. (2017) Sing the Gloaming. Galloway Dark Sky Park, Scotland.

Little, H. (2018) “Babel on 5”. Babel: The Language Magazine, Issue 23. Page 42-44.

Morin, O., Winters, J., Müller, T. F., Morisseau, T., Etter, C., & Greenhill, S. J. (2018). What smartphone apps may contribute to language evolution research. Journal of Language Evolution, 3(2), 91-93.

Raviv, L., & Arnon, I. (2018). Systematicity, but not compositionality: Examining the emergence of linguistic structure in children and adults using iterated learning. Cognition, 181, 160-173.

Sayenga, K. (Producer). (2013). Through the Wormhole [Television series]. Revelations Entertainment.

Trench, B. (2008). Towards an analytical framework of science communication models. In Communicating science in social contexts (pp. 119-135). Springer, Dordrecht.

Verhoef, T., Roberts, S. G., & Dingemanse, M. (2015). Emergence of systematic iconicity: transmission, interaction and analogy.


Four positions at the School of Collective Intelligence

Recently I was fortunate enough to go out to Morocco for the launch of a brand new school of Collective Intelligence:

If the launch was anything to go by, it’s going to be a pretty awesome to place to live and work, which brings me to four exciting opportunities for potential professors in data science, social computing, developmental psychology, and cognitive science:

The University Mohammed VI Polytechnic (Ben Guerir, Morocco) is recruiting one to three professors of cognitive sciences for October 2019 (at the earliest) […]

The recruited professors will divide their time between teaching (max. 3 courses per year), basic research, and applied research, in varying proportions depending on the position. Teaching will be in English or French.

Below are links to each of the positions (.docx) with more information.

Call for Papers 7th UK Cognitive Linguistics Association Conference

The University of Birmingham and the Department of English Language and Linguisticsare proud to host the 7th UK Cognitive Linguistics Association Conference from 28 – 30 July 2020 at the University of Birmingham.

The conference welcomes contributions from all fields of cognitive linguistics, as well as from related fields more broadly concerned with language and cognition. We aim to cover a wide range of research including, but not limited to, the following topics:

  • Functional and usage-based approaches to language
  • Cognitive grammar and construction grammar
  • Cognitive/constructionist approaches to linguistic diversity and typology
  • Metaphor, metonymy, blends and other forms of figurative language
  • Cognitive semantics and frame semantics
  • Prototypes and categorization
  • Cognitive discourse analysis
  • Cognitive pragmatics
  • Cognitive semiotics
  • Cognitive approaches to historical linguistics
  • Language evolution
  • Language acquisition
  • Experimental semantics and pragmatics
  • Sign language research
  • Linguistic relativity
  • Language and space
  • Language and perception
  • Gesture and multimodality
  • Iconicity
  • Embodied cognition and situated cognition

Cognitive linguistics is by definition highly interdisciplinary, and so in addition to primarily linguistic research, we also invite language related submissions that are based on disciplines such as (cognitive and social) psychology, cognitive science, neuroscience, anthropology, biology, artificial intelligence, and discourse and communication studies.

Talks will be 20 minutes plus 10 minutes for questions and discussion. There will also be a poster session.

The language of the conference is English.

Participants will be allowed to present at most one talk (as a single or first author) and one poster. However, there is no restriction on the number of co-authored papers. Upon submission, you will be asked to indicate if you intend the submission for a talk or a poster

Abstracts of no more than 500 words (excluding references) should be submitted using EasyChair. The link will be communicated in due course. 

The Call for Papers will be open from September 2019 until December 30, 2019

If you require a BSL interpreter, please get in contact with the organisers

All abstracts will be subject to double-blind peer review by an international scientific committee (and should therefore not contain author names).

More info on the website here: https://www.ukclc2020.com/

Post-doc position at the Mint lab (Max Planck for the Science of Human History)

A new post-doc position has opened up at the Minds and Traditions research group in Jena, Germany (deadline: September 10th 2019). There are two possible projects (see links for more detailed descriptions):

  • How to value cultural diversity cultural diversity (link: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/eqfd9hmekoq0nav/AABWk1LCd_xkUh4mSE-8BTKqa?dl=0&preview=MintCultDivPostodc.pdf)
  • Measuring the distinctiveness of graphic symbols (link: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/eqfd9hmekoq0nav/AABWk1LCd_xkUh4mSE-8BTKqa?dl=0&preview=MintSymbolsPostDoc.pdf)

Having been here for the past four years I can vouch that the Mint is a pretty awesome place to work at.

New positions (PhD and Postdoc) at VUB AI Lab

Bart de Boer at the VUB A.I. Lab is looking for a new PhD student to work on agent based models:

The PhD work will consist of building an agent-based simulation in which we can investigate emergence of behavior in a cognitively realistic setting. This means that the agents are not fully rational and that they show behavior similar to that of humans, and that interests of agents are not necessarily always aligned. The modeling will primarily focus on emergence of speech, but the simulation should be general enough that it can be easily adapted to other areas, such as traffic or economic interactions.

More details and how to apply here: https://ai.vub.ac.be/node/1688

He’s also recruiting a visiting post-doc:

The work should consist of agent-based simulation, or of experiments to investigate emergence of behavior in a cognitively realistic setting. This means that in a computer simulation, the agents are not fully rational and that they show behavior similar to that of humans, and that interests of agents are not necessarily always aligned. Experiments should focus on factors that are typical for human settings, but that are generally idealized away, such as altruism, conflicts of interests and other “non-rational” behaviors. We are most interested in modeling emergence of speech, but we welcome applications proposing other areas, such as traffic or economic interactions.

More details here: https://ai.vub.ac.be/node/1689

Evolution: Is sex really even sexual?

This is a guest post by Angarika Deb.

Sexual Selection theory, though much celebrated, has faced criticism since its inception. A new model now proposes sexual reproduction and reproductive social behaviour to be cooperative instead of competitive, as was initially advocated earlier by Darwin.

After the sensational theory of natural selection, Darwin outlined the theory of sexual selection in his book, The Origin of Species (Darwin, 1869) and developed it in The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex (Darwin, 1871). This was in an effort to explain the structural and behavioural peculiarities in animals that did not make complete sense under the light of natural selection, for example ornamented plumage, mate signalling under predation risk etc. Natural selection is dependent on a struggle for enhancing individual survival; whereas sexual selection advocates a struggle between the sexes (intersexual competition) and amongst them (intrasexual competition) for rearing maximum progeny. ‘The result is not death to the unsuccessful competitor, but few or no offspring’, as explained by Darwin (1871). Heritable traits that are deemed detrimental to survival, were explained by sexual selection as conferring an advantage in intrasexual competition for finding mates and intersexual competition between mates to increase their own future reproductive fitness.

Continue reading “Evolution: Is sex really even sexual?”