Call for Posters – Minds, Mechanisms and Interaction in the Evolution of Language

The workshop “Minds, Mechanisms and Interaction in the Evolution of Language” will be hosted at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen, the Netherlands on 21st-22nd September 2017. The workshop will include a poster session on topics related to the themes of the meeting. We are interested in contributions investigating the emergence and evolution of language, specifically in relation to interaction.

We are looking for work in the following areas:

  • biases and pre-adaptations for language and interaction
  • cognitive and cultural mechanisms for linguistic emergence
  • interaction as a driver for language evolution

We invite submissions of abstracts for posters, particularly from PhD students and junior researchers.

Please submit an abstract of no more than 300 words (word count not including references) by email to hannah.little@mpi.nl.  Please include a title, authors, affiliations and contact email addresses.  

Deadline: July 9th 2017

Outcome of decision process by: 24th July

Abstracts will be reviewed by the workshop committee.

The poster session will take place on the evening of Thursday September 21st 2017.

Registration is free (details to follow).

Plenary speakers:

  • David Leavens, University of Sussex
  • Jennie Pyers, Wellesley College
  • Monica Tamariz, Heriot Watt University

The workshop also includes presentations from the Levinson group (Language Evolution and Interaction Scholars of Nijmegen)  and an introduction by Stephen Levinson himself!

Summer school:

The workshop will also be bookended with a summer school on 20th and 23rd September specifically aimed at PhD students. The school will consist of a short tutorial series covering experimental and statistical methods that should be of broad interest to a general audience, though focussed around the theme of the workshop. In this tutorial series, we will cover all aspects of creating, hosting, and analysing the data from a set of experiments that will be run live (online) during the workshop! More details for the summer school and registration will follow.

2 PhD positions available with Bart de Boer in Brussels!

Two PhD positions are available in the AI lab at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel with Bart de Boer.

One position is on modelling an emerging sign language:

We are looking for a PhD student to work on modeling the emergence of sign languages, with a focus on modeling the social dynamics underlying existing signing communities.  The project relies on specialist expertise of the Kata Kolok signing community that has emerged in a Balinese village over the course of several generations. The emergence of Kata Kolok, and the demographics of the village have been closely studied by geneticists, anthropologists, and linguists. A preliminary model has been built in Python, simulating this emergence. The aim of the project is to investigate, using a combination of linguistic field research and computational modeling which factors – cultural, genetic, linguistic and others –  determine the way language emerges. There will be one PhD student in Nijmegen conducting primary field research on Kata Kolok and one based in Brussels (as advertised here) to be involved in the computational aspect of the project. Both positions are part of a FWO-NWO funded collaboration of the Artificial Intelligence lab of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and the Center for Language Studies at Radboud University Nijmegen and the advertised position is supervised by profs. Bart de Boer and Connie de Vos.

Advertisement here: https://ai.vub.ac.be/PhDKataKolok

The other is on modelling acquisition of speech:

We are looking for someone who has (or who is about to complete) a master’s degree in artificial intelligence, speech technology, computer science or equivalent. You will work on a project that investigates advanced techniques for learning the building blocks of speech, with a focus on spectro-temporal features and dynamic Bayesian networks. It is part of the Artificial Intelligence lab of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and is supervised by prof. Bart de Boer.

Advertisement here: https://ai.vub.ac.be/PhD_Spectrotemporal_DBN

The deadline for application is 1st July 2017. Other details available at the links above.

Questions about details of the positions themselves should be directed to Bart de Boer (bart@arti.vub.ac.be). However, I myself did my PhD with Bart at the VUB, so I’d also be happy to answer more informal questions about working in the lab/living in Belgium/other things (hannah@ai.vub.ac.be).

Iconicity evolves by random mutation and biased selection

A new paper by Monica Tamariz, myself, Isidro Martínez and Julio Santiago uses an iterated learning paradigm to investigate the emergence of iconicity in the lexicon.  The languages were mappings between written forms and a set of shapes that varied in colour, outline and, importantly, how spiky or round they were.

We found that languages which begin with no iconic mapping develop a bouba-kiki relationship when the languages are used for communication between two participants, but not when they are just learned and reproduced.  The measure of the iconicity of the words came from naive raters.

Here’s one of the languages at the end of a communication chain, and you can see that the labels for spiky shapes ‘sound’ more spiky:

An example language from the final generation of our experiment: meanings, labels and spikiness ratings.

These experiments were actually run way back in 2013, but as is often the case, the project lost momentum.  Monica and I met last year to look at it again, and we did some new analyses.  We worked out whether each new innovation that participants created increased or decreased iconicity.  We found that new innovations are equally likely to result in higher or lower iconicity: mutation is random.  However, in the communication condition, participants re-used more iconic forms: selection is biased.  That fits with a number of other studies on iconicity, including Verhoef et al., 2015 (CogSci proceedings) and Blasi et al. (2017).

Matthew Jones, Gabriella Vigliocco and colleagues have been working on similar experiments, though their results are slightly different.  Jones presented this work at the recent symposium on iconicity in language and literature (you can read the abstract here), and will also present at this year’s CogSci conference, which I’m looking forward to reading:

Jones, M., Vinson, D., Clostre, N., Zhu, A. L., Santiago, J., Vigliocco, G. (forthcoming). The bouba effect: sound-shape iconicity in iterated and implicit learning. Proceedings of the 36th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society.

Our paper is quite short, so I won’t spend any more time on it here, apart from one other cool thing:  For the final set of labels in each generation we measured iconicity using scores from nieve raters, but for the analysis of innovations we had hundreds of extra forms.  We used a random forest to predict iconicity ratings for the extra labels from unigrams and bigrams of the rated labels.  It accounted for 89% of the variance in participant ratings on unseen data.  This is a good improvement over some old techniques such as using the average iconicity of the individual letters in the label, since random forests allows the weighting of particular letters to be estimated from the data, and also allows for non-linear effects when two letters are combined.

However, it turns out that most of the prediction is done by this simple decision tree with just 3 unigram variables. Shapes were rated as more spiky if they contained a ‘k’, ‘j’ and ‘z’ (our experiment was run in Spanish):

So the method was a bit overkill in this case, but might be useful for future studies.

All data and code for doing the analyses and random forest prediction is available in the supporting information of the paper, or in this github repository.

Tamariz, M., Roberts, S. G., Martínez, J. I. and Santiago, J. (2017), The Interactive Origin of Iconicity. Cogn Sci. doi:10.1111/cogs.12497[pdf from MPI]

Biggest linguistics experiment ever links perception with linguistic history

Back in March 2014, Hedvig Skirgård and I wrote a post about the Great Language Game.  Today we’ve published those results in PLOS ONE, together with the Game’s creator Lars Yencken.

One of the fundamental principles of linguistics is that speakers that are separated in time or space will start sound different, while speakers who interact with each other will start to sound similar.  Historical linguists have traced the diversification of languages using objective linguistic measurements, but so far there has never been a widespread test of whether languages further away on a family tree or more physically distant from each other actually sound different to human listeners.

An opportunity arose to test this in the form of The Great Language Game: a web-based game where players listen to a clip of someone talking and have to guess which language is being spoken.  It was played by nearly one million people from 80 countries, and so is, as far as we know, the biggest linguistic experiment ever.  Actually, this is probably my favourite table I’ve ever published (note the last row):

Continent of IP-address Number of guesses
Europe 7,963,630
North America 5,980,767
Asia 841,609
Oceania 364,390
South America 356,390
Africa 74,032
Antarctica 11

We calculated the probability of confusing any of the 78 languages in the Great Language Game for any of the others (excluding guesses about a language if it was an official language of the country the player was in).  Players were good at this game – on average getting 70% of guesses correct.

Using partial Mantel tests, we found that languages are more likely to be confused if they are:

  • Geographically close to each other;
  • Similar in their phoneme inventories
  • Similar in their lexicon
  • Closely related historically (but this effect disappears when controlling for geographic proximity)

We also used Random Forests analyses to show that a language is more likely to be guessed correctly if it is often mentioned in literature, is the main language of an economically powerful country, is spoken by many people or is spoken in many countries.

We visualised the perceptual similarity of languages by using the inverse probability of confusion to create a neighbour net:

This diagram shows a kind of subway map for the way languages sound. The shortest route between two languages indicates how often they are confused for one another – so Swedish and Norwegian sound similar, but Italian and Japanese sound very different. The further you have to travel, the more different two languages sound.  So French and German are far away from many languages, since these were the best-guessed in the corpus.

The labels we’ve given to some of the clusters are descriptive, rather than being official terms that linguists use.  The first striking pattern is that some languages are more closely connected than others, for example the Slavic languages are all grouped together, indicating that people have a hard time distinguishing between them. Some of the other groups are more based on geographic area, such as the ‘Dravidian’ or ‘African’ cluster. The ‘North Sea’ cluster is interesting: it includes Welsh, Scottish Gaelic, Dutch, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian and Icelandic.  These diverged from each other a long time ago in the Indo-European family tree, but have had more recent contact due to trade and invasion across the North Sea.

The whole graph splits between ‘Western’ and ‘Eastern’ languages (we refer to the political/cultural divide rather than any linguistic classification). This probably reflects the fact that most players were Western, or at least could probably read the English website.  That would certainly explain the linguistically confused “East Asian” cluster.  There are also a lot of interconnected lines, which indicates that some languages are confused for multiple groups, for example Turkish is placed halfway between “West” and “East” languages.

It was also possible to create neighbour nets for responses from specific parts of the world. While the general pattern is similar, there are also some interesting differences.  For example, respondents from North America were quite likely to confused Yiddish and Hebrew.  They come from different language families, but are spoken by a mainly Jewish population and this may form part of players’ cultural knowledge of these languages.

In contrast, players from African placed Hebrew with the other Afro-Asiatic languages.

Results like this suggest that perception may be shaped by our linguistic history and cultural knowledge.

We also did some preliminary analyses on the phoneme inventories of languages, using a binary decision tree to explore which sounds made a language distinctive.  Binary decision trees identified some rare and salient features as critical cues to distinctiveness.

The future

http://is5.mzstatic.com/image/thumb/Purple69/v4/bd/32/7d/bd327d24-f55c-b340-2f89-511ccf7ab870/source/175x175bb.jpg

The analyses were complicated because we knew little about the individuals playing beyond the country of their IP address.  However, Hedvig and I, together with a team from the Language in Interaction consortium (Mark Dingemanse, Pashiera Barkhuysen and Peter Withers) create a version of the game called LingQuest that does collect people’s linguistic background.  It also asks participants to compare sound files directly, rather than use written labels.

You can download LingQuest as an apple App, or play it online here.

 

 

 

Conference: Triggers of change in the language sciences

The University of Lyon 2 is proud to announce ‘Triggers of Language Change in the Language Sciences’.

October 11th-14th 2017, University of Lyon, France.

See the website for our call for papers and further details.

The conference is part of the “X in the Language Sciences” (XLanS) series which aims to bring a wide range of researchers together to focus on a particular topic in language that interests them.  The goal is to identify the crucial issues and connect them with cutting-edge techniques in order to develop better explanations of linguistic phenomena (see details of the first conference “Causality in the language sciences” here).

This year’s topic is ‘triggers of change’:  What causes a sound system or lexicon or grammatical system to change?  How can we explain rapid changes followed by periods of stability?  Can we predict the direction and rate of change according to external influences?

Our keynote speakers include:
Michael C. Gavin (Colorado State University)
Monica Tamariz (Heriot Watt University)
Sarah Thomason (University of Michigan)
Brigitte Pakendorf (University of Lyon)
Alan Yu (University of Chicago)
We are pleased to be able to offer scholarships to cover travel for students from the developing world and reduced rates for lower-income attendees.  See the Registration Details page for details.

The XLanS committee,

Christophe Coupé, Damián Blasi, Dan Dediu, Hedvig Skirgård, Julia Uddén, Seán Roberts

Women in Language Evolution

It’s International Women’s day!  Language Evolution is a largely male dominated discipline: women account for only 8 out of the top 100 most cited authors, and only 14 out of 82 invited speakers at the Evolution of Language Conference (see here).  To promote the contribution of women to our field, we’ve compiled a list of 100 female researchers in language evolution.

The list is by no means exhaustive, and is largely based on attendance at the most recent EvoLang conference.  Topics cover both language origins and evolutionary approaches to linguistics more generally.  A recent paper by each author is also included, though it may not be the best representation of their work.  All mistakes with regards to links and citations are my own.

 

Adele E. Goldberg

Goldberg, A. E. (2015). Subtle implicit language facts emerge from the functions of constructions. Frontiers in psychology, 6.

Alexandra Carstensen

Regier, T., Carstensen, A., & Kemp, C. (2016). Languages support efficient communication about the environment: words for snow revisited. PloS one, 11(4), e0151138.

Amy Bauernfeind

Bauernfeind AL, Soderblom EJ, Turner ME, Moseley MA, Ely JJ, Hof PR, Sherwood CC, Wray GA, Babbitt CC. Evolutionary divergence of gene and protein expression in the brains of humans and chimpanzees. Genome Biology and Evolution. doi: 10.1093/gbe/evv132

Amy Perfors

A Perfors (in press). On simplicity and emergence: Commentary on Johnson (2016) Psychonomic Bulletin and Review: Special issue on language evolution

Andrea Claude

Calude, A & Verkerk, A. (2016). How to build the Number Line in Indo-European – a Phylogenetic Study. Journal of Language Evolution [link]

Andreea Geambasu

Geambașu A., Ravigniani A. & Levelt C.C. (2016), Preliminary Experiments on Human Sensitivity to Rhythmic Structure in a Grammar with Recursive Self-Similarity, Frontiers in Neuroscience 10.

Anna Jon-And

Jon-And (2016) Modeling language change triggered by language shift. The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 11th International Conference (EVOLANG11)

Anna Maria Di Sciullo

Sciullo (2016) Emergent syntax and syntactic variation. The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 11th International Conference (EVOLANG11)

Anne Kandler

Kandler, A., Wilder, B., & Fortunato, L. (2017). Inferring individual-level processes from population-level patterns in cultural evolution. bioRxiv, 111575.

Annemarie Verkerk

Calude, A & Verkerk, A. (2016). How to build the Number Line in Indo-European – a Phylogenetic Study. Journal of Language Evolution [link]

Anu Vastenius

(2016) Constituent order in pictorial representations of events is influenced by language. The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 11th International Conference (EVOLANG11)

Ashley Micklos

Micklos (2016) Interaction for facilitating conventionalization: negotiating the silent gesture communication of noun-verb pairs. The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 11th International Conference (EVOLANG11)

Asifa Majid

Majid, A., Jordan, F., & Dunn, M. (2015). Semantic systems in closely related languages.

Brenda McCowan

Beisner, B. A., Hannibal, D. L., Finn, K. R., Fushing, H., & McCowan, B. (2016). Social power, conflict policing, and the role of subordination signals in rhesus macaque society. American journal of physical anthropology.

Bridget Samuels

Samuels, B. D. (2015). Can a bird brain do phonology?. Frontiers in psychology, 6.

Brigitte Pakendorf

Pakendorf, B. (2014). Coevolution of languages and genes. Current opinion in genetics & development, 29, 39-44.

Buddhamas Kriengwatana

Kriengwatana (2016) A general auditory bias for handling speaker variability in speech? evidence in humans and songbirds. . The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 11th International Conference (EVOLANG11)

Camilla Power

Power, C., Finnegan, M., & Callan, H. (2016). Human Origins: Contributions from Social Anthropology.

Carmen Saldana

(2016) The cultural evolution of complexity in linguistic structure. The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 11th International Conference (EVOLANG11)

Carol Padden

Padden, C., Meir, I., Aronoff, M. and Sandler, W. (in press) The grammar of space in two new sign languages. In D. Brentari (Ed.), Sign Languages: A Cambridge Survey. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Catherine Hobaiter

Hobaiter, C., Poisot, T., Zuberbühler, K., Hoppitt, W., & Gruber, T. (2014). Social network analysis shows direct evidence for social transmission of tool use in wild chimpanzees. PLoS Biol, 12(9), e1001960.

Catriona Silvey

Silvey, C., Kirby, S., & Smith, K. (2015). Word meanings evolve to selectively preserve distinctions on salient dimensions. Cognitive Science, 39(1), 212-226.

Cecilia Heyes

Heyes, C. (2016). Blackboxing: social learning strategies and cultural evolution. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B, 371(1693), 20150369.

Chiara Barbieri

Barbieri, C., Güldemann, T., Naumann, C., Gerlach, L., Berthold, F., Nakagawa, H., … & Pakendorf, B. (2014). Unraveling the complex maternal history of Southern African Khoisan populations. American journal of physical anthropology, 153(3), 435-448.

Christina Behme

Behme, C. (2015). Is the ontology of biolinguistics coherent?. Language Sciences, 47, 32-42.

Christine Caldwell

Caldwell CA, Atkinson M & Renner E (2016) Experimental approaches to studying cumulative cultural evolution, Current Directions in Psychological Science, 25 (3), pp. 191-195.

Christine Cuskley

Cuskley, C., Simner, J. and Kirby, S. (2015). Phonological and orthographic influences in the bouba-kiki effect. Psychological Research, doi: 10.1007/s00426-015-0709-2.

Claire Bowern

Bowern, C. (2015). Linguistics: Evolution and Language Change. Current Biology, 25(1), R41-R43.

Colleen Reichmuth

Reichmuth, C., & Casey, C. (2014). Vocal learning in seals, sea lions, and walruses. Current opinion in neurobiology, 28, 66-71.

Cory Cuthbertson

(2016) Empirically assessing linguistic ability with stone tools. The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 11th International Conference (EVOLANG11)

Dean Falk

Falk, D. (2016). Evolution of Brain and Culture. Journal of Anthropological Sciences, 94, 1.

Deborah Kerr

(2016) The spontaneous emergence of linguistic diversity in an artificial language. The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 11th International Conference (EVOLANG11)

Dedre Gentner

Gentner, D. (2016). Language as cognitive tool kit: How language supports relational thought. American Psychologist, 71(8), 650.

Diane Reiss

Maust-Mohl, M., Soltis, J., & Reiss, D. (2015). Acoustic and behavioral repertoires of the hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius). The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 138(2), 545-554.

Ekaterina Abramova

(2016) Triadic ontogenetic ritualization: an overlooked possibility. The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 11th International Conference (EVOLANG11)

Elizabeth Irvine

Irvine (2016) Deictic tools can limit the emergence of referential symbol systems. The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 11th International Conference (EVOLANG11)

Emilia Garcia-Casademont

Garcia-Casademont, E. (2017). A Case Study in the Emergence of Recursive Phrase Structure. In First Complex Systems Digital Campus World E-Conference 2015 (pp. 333-336). Springer, Cham.

Emily Morgan

(2016) Frequency-dependent regularization in iterated learning. The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 11th International Conference (EVOLANG11)

Erica Cartmill

Cartmill, E. A., Hunsicker, D., & Goldin-Meadow, S. (2014). Pointing and naming are not redundant: Children use gesture to modify nouns before they modify nouns in speech. Developmental psychology, 50(6), 1660.

Esther Clarke

Clarke, E., Reichard, U. H., & Zuberbühler, K. (2015). Context-specific close-range “hoo” calls in wild gibbons (Hylobates lar). BMC evolutionary biology, 15(1), 56.

Eva Zehentner

(2016) A game theoretic account of semantic subjectification in the cultural evolution of languages. The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 11th International Conference (EVOLANG11)

Evelina Fedorenko

Piantadosi, S. T., & Fedorenko, E. (2016). Infinitely productive language can arise from chance under communicative pressure.

Federica Cavicchio

Cavicchio (2016) Are emotional displays an evolutionary precursor to compositionality in language?. The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 11th International Conference (EVOLANG11)

Fiona Jordan

Jordan, FM & Huber, B, 2013, ‘Evolutionary approaches to cross-cultural anthropology’. Cross-Cultural Research, vol 47., pp. 91-101

Florencia Reali

Reali, F., Chater, N., & Christiansen, M. H. (2014, March). The paradox of linguistic complexity and community size. In Proceedings of the 10th International Conference on the Evolution of Language (EVOLANG X). Singapore: World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd (pp. 270-279).

Francesca Tria

Tria (2016) Modeling the emergence of creole languages. The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 11th International Conference (EVOLANG11)

Gabriella Vigliocco

Vigliocco, G., Perniss, P., & Vinson, D. (2014). Language as a multimodal phenomenon: implications for language learning, processing and evolution.

Hannah Cornish

Cornish, H., Dale, R., Kirby, S., & Christiansen, M. H. (2017). Sequence Memory Constraints Give Rise to Language-Like Structure through Iterated Learning. PloS one, 12(1), e0168532.

Hannah Haynie

Haynie, H., Bowern, C., & LaPalombara, H. (2014). Sound symbolism in the languages of Australia. PloS one, 9(4), e92852.

Hannah Little

(2016) Emergence of signal structure: effects of duration constraints. The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 11th International Conference (EVOLANG11)

Heidi Lyn

Lyn, H. (2017). The question of capacity: Why enculturated and trained animals have much to tell us about the evolution of language. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 24(1), 85-90.

Hope Morgan

(2016) The effect of modality on signal space in natural languages. The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 11th International Conference (EVOLANG11)

Irene Pepperberg

Pepperberg, I. M. (2016). Animal language studies: What happened? Psychonomic Bulletin & Review Psychon Bull Rev. doi:10.3758/s13423-016-1101-y

Irit Meir

Meir, I., Aronoff, M., Börstell, C., Hwang, S. O., Ilkbasaran, D., Kastner, I., … & Sandler, W. (2017). The effect of being human and the basis of grammatical word order: Insights from novel communication systems and young sign languages. Cognition, 158, 189-207.

Janet Mann

Mann, J., & Singh, L. (2015). Culture, Diffusion, and Networks in Social Animals. Emerging Trends in the Social and Behavioral Sciences: An Interdisciplinary, Searchable, and Linkable Resource.

Jasmeen Kanwal

(2016) The evolution of Zipf’s law of abbreviation. The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 11th International Conference (EVOLANG11)

Jennifer Culbertson

Culbertson, J., & Newport, E. L. (2015). Harmonic biases in child learners: In support of language universals. Cognition, 139, 71-82.

Jesse Snedeker

Kocab, A., Senghas, A., & Snedeker, J. (2016). The emergence of temporal language in Nicaraguan Sign Language. Cognition, 156, 147-163.

Jiani Chen

Chen, J., & ten Cate, C. (2015). Zebra finches can use positional and transitional cues to distinguish vocal element strings. Behavioural processes, 117, 29-34.

Joan Bybee

Bybee, Joan. Language change. Cambridge University Press, 2015.

Joanna Bryson

Bryson, J.J. (2007). Embodiment vs. Memetics. Mind & Society, 7(1):77-94. [Link]

Kate Arnold

Arnold, K & Zuberbuehler, K 2013, ‘Female putty-nosed monkeys use experimentally altered contextual information to disambiguate the cause of male alarm calls’ PLoS One, vol 8, no. 6, e65660. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0065660

Kathleen Dudzinski

Dudzinski, K., & Frohoff, T. (2014). Dolphin mysteries: Unlocking the secrets of communication. Yale University Press.

Katie Collier

(2016) Dwarf mongooses combine meaningful alarm calls. The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 11th International Conference (EVOLANG11)

Katie Slocombe

Fedurek, P., & Slocombe, K. E. (2011). Primate vocal communication: a useful tool for understanding human speech and language evolution?. Human Biology, 83(2), 153-173.

Kim Bard

Bard, K. A. (2016). Dyadic interactions, attachment and the presence of triadic interactions in chimpanzees and humans. Infant Behavior and Development.

Kirsty Graham

(2016) Intentional meaning of bonobo gestures. The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 11th International Conference (EVOLANG11)

Lilia Rissman

Rissman (2016) Strategies in gesture and sign for demoting an agent: effects of language community and input . The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 11th International Conference (EVOLANG11)

Ljiljana Progovac

Progovac, L. (2016) A gradualist scenario for language evolution: Precise linguistic reconstruction of early human (and Neandertal) grammars. Frontiers in Psychology 2016

Limor Raviv

Raviv, L., & Arnon, I. (2016). Language evolution in the lab: The case of child learners. In A. Papagrafou, D. Grodner, D. Mirman, & J. Trueswell (Eds.), Proceedings of the 38th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society (CogSci 2016). Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society (pp. 1643-1648). Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society.

Lynn Perry

Perry (2016) Early learned words are more iconic. The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 11th International Conference (EVOLANG11)

Madza Farias-Virgens

(2016) Evolution of convergent transcriptional specializations in the brains of humans and song-learning birds. The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 11th International Conference (EVOLANG11)

Maggie Tallerman

Tallerman M. Can the integration hypothesis account for language evolution?. Journal of Neurolinguistics 2016, (ePub ahead of Print).

Marie Montant

Montant (2016) Make new with old: human language in phylogenetically ancient brain regions. The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 11th International Conference (EVOLANG11)

Marieke Schouwstra

Schouwstra, M. (2016). Temporal Structure in Emerging Language: From Natural Data to Silent Gesture. Cognitive Science.

Marieke Woensdregt

(2016) The cultural co-evolution of language and mindreading. The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 11th International Conference (EVOLANG11)

Marlen Fröhlich

Fröhlich, M.; Müller, G.; Zeiträg, C.; Wittig, R. M.; Pika, S.: Gestural development of chimpanzees in the wild: the impact of interactional experience. Animal Behaviour (2017)

Megan Broadway

(2016) Signature whistles in an introduction context. The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 11th International Conference (EVOLANG11)

Michelle Spierings

(2016) Rule learning in birds: zebra finches generalize by positional similarities, budgerigars by the structural rules.. The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 11th International Conference (EVOLANG11)

Molly Flaherty

Flaherty (2016) Do lab attested biases predict the structure of a new natural language? The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 11th International Conference (EVOLANG11)

Molly Lewis

Lewis, M. & Frank, M. C. (2016). The length of words reflects their conceptual complexity. Cognition. 153, 182-195.

Monica Tamariz

Tamariz, M., & Kirby, S. (2016). The cultural evolution of language. Current Opinion in Psychology, 8, 37-43.

Monika Pleyer

Pleyer, M. & Pleyer, M. (2016). The Evolution of Im/politeness. The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 11th International Conference (EVOLANG11)

Mutsumi Imai

Imai, M., Kanero, J., & Masuda, T.(2016). The Relation between Language, Culture and Thought. Current Opinion in Psychology, 8, 70–77.

Natalie Sebanz

Milward, S. J., & Sebanz, N. (2016). Mechanisms and development of self–other distinction in dyads and groups. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B, 371(1686), 20150076.

Nicky Clayton

Clayton, N. S. (2015). Ways of thinking: from crows to children and back again. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 68(2), 209-241.

Oksana Tkachman

(2016) Arbitrariness of iconicity: the sources (and forces) of (dis)similarities in iconic representations . The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 11th International Conference (EVOLANG11)

Olga Feher

Fehér, O., Ljubicic, I., Suzuki, K., Okanoya, K. & Tchernichovski, O. (2017). Statistical learning in songbirds: from self-tutoring to song culture. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2016.0053.

Olga Vasileva

(2016) Language evolution in ontogeny and phylogeny. The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 11th International Conference (EVOLANG11)

Pamela Perniss

Perniss, P., & Vigliocco, G. (2014). The bridge of iconicity: from a world of experience to the experience of language. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B, 369(1651), 20130300.

Piera Filippi

Filippi (2016) Humans recognize vocal expressions of emotional states universally across species. The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 11th International Conference (EVOLANG11)

Rebecca Grollemund

Grollemund, R., Branford, B., Bostoen, K., Meade, A., Venditti, C. & Pagel, M. (2015). Bantu expansion shows habitat alters the route and pace of human dispersals. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), 112:43, pp. 13296-13301. [link]

Rie Asano

(2016) On a music-ready brain: neural basis, mechanisms, and their contribution to the language evolution. The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 11th International Conference (EVOLANG11)

Rose Stamp

Stamp (2016) The grammar of the body and the emergence of complexity in sign languages. The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 11th International Conference (EVOLANG11)

Ruth Sonnweber

Sonnweber, R., Ravignani, A., & Fitch, W. T. (2015). Non-adjacent visual dependency learning in chimpanzees. Animal cognition, 18(3), 733-745.

Sabine van der Ham

(2016) Catergory learning in audition, touch, and vision. The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 11th International Conference (EVOLANG11)

Sabrina Engesser

(2016) Meaningful call combinations and compositional processing in a social bird. The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 11th International Conference (EVOLANG11)

Sarah Hrdy

Hrdy, S. B. (2016). Development plus social selection in the emergence of “emotionally modern” humans. Childhood: Origins, Evolution, and Implications, 11.

Sharon Thompson-Schill

Fedorenko, E., & Thompson-Schill, S. L. (2014). Reworking the language network. Trends in cognitive sciences, 18(3), 120-126.

Shiri Lev-Ari

Lev-Ari, S., & Peperkamp, S. (2017). Language for $200: Success in the environment influences grammatical alignment. Journal of Language Evolution. Advance online publication. doi:10.1093/jole/lzw012

Simone Pika

Fröhlich, M.; Müller, G.; Zeiträg, C.; Wittig, R. M.; Pika, S.: Gestural development of chimpanzees in the wild: the impact of interactional experience. Animal Behaviour (2017)

Sonia Harmand

Lewis, Jason E., and Sonia Harmand. “An earlier origin for stone tool making: implications for cognitive evolution and the transition to Homo.” Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 371.1698 (2016): 20150233.

Sonja Vernes

Vernes, S. C. (2016). What bats have to say about speech and language. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review. Advance online publication. doi:10.3758/s13423-016-1060-3

Susan Goldin-Meadow

Goldin-Meadow, S., & Yang, C. (2016). Statistical evidence that a child can create a combinatorial linguistic system without external linguistic input: Implications for language evolution. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews.

Tessa Verhoef

Verhoef (2016) Iconicity, naturalness and systematicity in the emergence of sign language structure. The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 11th International Conference (EVOLANG11)

Vanessa Ferdinand

Ferdinand (2016) Word learners regularize synonyms and homonyms similarly. The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 11th International Conference (EVOLANG11)

Vera Kempe

Kempe, V., Gauvrit, N., & Forsyth, D. (2015). Structure emerges faster during cultural transmission in children than in adults. Cognition, 136, 247-254.

Wendy Sandler

Sandler, Wendy (to appear). What Comes First in Language Emergence? In N. Enfield (Ed.). Dependencies in Language: On the Casual Ontology of Linguistic Systems. Language Science Press, Studies in Diversity Linguistics Series.

Yasamin Motamedi

(2016) Linguistic structure emerges in the cultural evolution of artificial sign languages. The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 11th International Conference (EVOLANG11)

Zanna Clay

Clay (2016) Functionally flexible vocalizations in wild bonobos (pan pansicus). The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 11th International Conference (EVOLANG11)

 

 

Protolang 5 in Barcelona!

Plenary speakers:

Sonja Vernes
Olga Feher
Martin Kuhlwilm
João Zilhão

Topics
Animal cognition
Animal communication
Anthropology
Cognitive science
Cognitive semiotics
Computational modelling
General evolutionary theory
Genetics of language
Gesture studies
Linguistics
Neuroscience of language
Paleoanthropology
Philosophy of biology
Philosophy of language
Pleistocene archaeology
Primatology
Psychology (evolutionary, comparative, developmental)
Speech physiology

Talks and posters
Please submit an anonymous abstract of 400 words to the Easychair website, https://easychair.org/conferences/?conf=protolang5 .
You will have the option of submitting an abstract to be considered for a presentation, poster or either. The file must be in .PDF format.

Talks should be suitable for 30 minutes (20 minutes for presentation/10 minutes for discussion).
Posters should be no larger than A0 size, vertical (841 x 1189 mm / 33.1 x 46.8 in).

Mini-Symposia
Please submit a proposal to protolang5@gmail.com including: (a) Title of the mini-symposium, (b) name and affiliation of the organizers, (c) a general description (400 words), and (d) abstract of each contributed talk (100-150 words).

Submissions should be suitable for a two-hour session and include 3 to 5 presentations.
The organizers of accepted mini-symposia will also act as chairs of their session.

Extra Event – Workshop on Lenneberg
On September 29, there will be a workshop on the 50 years of Eric Lenneberg’s Biological Foundations of Language, including also a talk by Tecumseh Fitch (University of Vienna). If you are already in town for Protolang 5, stick around one extra day and join us. There is no registration fee for this event.
Submissions of abstracts are welcome. Please submit the abstract of your talk (400 words) toprotolang5@gmail.com. Talks should be suitable for 30 minutes (20 minutes presentation/10 minutes for discussion). Make sure to send both an identified and an anonymous version.

Important dates
Submission deadline: April 20, 2017
Notifications of acceptance: June 15, 2017
Early registration deadline: July 15, 2017
Late registration deadline: September 25, 2017
Conference: September 26—28, 2017
Extra event (Workshop on Lenneberg): September 29, 2017

More info here: http://bioling.ub.edu/index.php/protolang-5/

Dan Everett’s Dark Matter @ 3QD

Consider these three words: gavagai, gabagaí, gabagool. If you’ve been binge watching episodes in the Star Trek franchise you might suspect them to be the equivalent of veni, vidi, vici, in the language of a space-faring race from the Gamma Quadrant. The truth, however, is even stranger.

The first is a made-up word that is well-known in certain philosophical circles. The second is not quite a word, but is from Pirahã, the Amazonian language brought to our attention by ex-missionary turned linguist, Daniel Everett, and can be translated as “frustrated initiation,” which is how Everett characterized his first field trip among the Pirahã. The third names an Italian cold cut that is likely spelled “capicola” or “capocolla” when written out and has various pronunciations depending on the local language. In New York and New Jersey, Tony Soprano country, it’s “gabagool”.

Everett discusses first two in his wide-ranging new book, Dark Matter of the Mind: The Culturally Articulated Unconscious (2016), which I review at 3 Quarks Daily. As for gabagool, good things come in threes, no?

Why gavagai? Willard van Orman Quine coined the word for a thought experiment that points up the problem of word meaning. He broaches the issue by considering the problem of radical translation, “translation of the language of a hitherto untouched people” (Word and Object 1960, 28). He asks us to consider a “linguist who, unaided by an interpreter, is out to penetrate and translate a language hitherto unknown. All the objective data he has to go on are the forces that he sees impinging on the native’s surfaces and the observable behavior, focal and otherwise, of the native.” That is to say, he has no direct access to what is going on inside the native’s head, but utterances are available to him. Quine then asks us to imagine that “a rabbit scurries by, the native says ‘Gavagai’, and the linguist notes down the sentence ‘Rabbit’ (of ‘Lo, a rabbit’) as tentative translation, subject to testing in further cases” (p. 29).

Quine goes on to argue that, in thus proposing that initial translation, the linguist is making illegitimate assumptions. He begins his argument by nothing that the native might, in fact, mean “white” or “animal” and later on offers more exotic possibilities, the sort of things only a philosopher would think of. Quine also notes that whatever gestures and utterances the native offers as the linguist attempts to clarify and verify will be subject to the same problem.

As Everett notes, however, in his chapter on translation (266):

On the side of mistakes never made, however, Quine’s gavagai problem is one. In my field research on more than twenty languages—many of which involved monolingual situations …, whenever I pointed at an object or asked “What’s that?” I always got an answer for an entire object. Seeing me point at a bird, no one ever responded “feathers.” When asked about a manatee, no one ever answered “manatee soul.” On inquiring about a child, I always got “child,” “boy,” or “girl,” never “short hair.”

Later:

I believe that the absence of these Quinean answers results from the fact that when one person points toward a thing, all people (that I have worked with, at least) assume that what is being asked is the name of the entire object. In fact, over the years, as I have conducted many “monolingual demonstrations,” I have never encountered the gavagai problem. Objects have a relative salience… This is perhaps the result of evolved perception.

Frankly, I forget how I reacted to Quine’s thought experiment when I first read it as an undergraduate back in the 1960s. I probably found it a bit puzzling, and perhaps I even half-believed it. But that was a long time ago. When I read Everett’s comments on it I was not surprised to find that the gavagai problem doesn’t arise in the real world and find his suspected explanation, evolved perception, convincing.

As one might expect, Everett devotes quite a bit of attention to recursion, with fascinating examples from Pirahã concerning evidentials, but I deliberately did not bring that up in my review. Why, given that everyone and their Aunt Sally seem to be all a-twitter about the issue, didn’t I discuss it? That’s why, I’m tired of it and think that, at this point, it’s a case of the tail wagging the dog. I understand well enough why it’s an important issue, but it’s time to move on.

The important issue is to shift the focus of linguistic theory away from disembodied and decontextualized sentences and toward conversational interaction. That’s been going on for some time now and Everett has played a role in that shift. While the generative grammarians use merge as a term for syntactic recursion it could just as well be used to characterize how partners assimilate what they’re hearing with what they’re thinking. Perhaps that’s what syntax is for and why it arose, to make conversation more efficient–and I seem to think that Everett has a suggestion to that effect in his discussion of the role of gestures in linguistic interaction.

Anyhow, if these and related matters interest you, read my review and read Everett’s book.

Mutable stability in the transmission of medieval texts

I’ve just checked in at Academica.edu and was alerted to this article:

Stephen G. Nichols, Mutable Stability, a Medieval Paradox: The Case of Le Roman de la Rose, Queste 23 (2016) 2, pp. 71-103.

I’ve not yet read it, but a quick skim makes it clear that it speaks to a current debate in cultural evolution concerning the high-fidelity transmission of “memes” (Dan Dennett) vs. the variable transmission of objects as guided by “factors of attraction” (Dan Sperber). I’ve not yet read it, but here’s some tell-tale passages. This is from the beginning (p. 71):

Yet even those who argue, to the contrary, that ‘transmission errors’ often represent creative ‘participation’ by a talented scribe, must recognize the attraction of a stable work.After all, despite an extraordinary record of innovation, invention, and discovery, the Middle Ages are an era that resisted change in and for itself. And yet this same veneration of conservative values underlies a fascinating paradox of medieval culture: its delicate and seemingly contradictory balance between stability, on the one hand, and transformation, on the other. It may be that only an era that saw no contradiction in promulgating an omnipotent, unchanging divinity, which was at the same time a dynamic principle of construction and transformation, could have managed the paradox of what I want to call ‘mutable stability’.

Here’s Dawkins in the 2nd chapter of The Selfish Gene:

Darwin’s ‘survival of the fittest’ is really a special case of a more general law of survival of the stable. The universe is populated by stable things. A stable thing is a collection of atoms that is permanent enough or common enough to deserve a name. It may be a unique collection of atoms, such as the Matterhorn, that lasts long enough to be worth naming. Or it may be a class of entities, such as rain drops, that come into existence at a sufficiently high rate to deserve a collective name, even if any one of them is short-lived. The things that we see around us, and which we think of as needing explanation–rocks, galaxies, ocean waves–are all, to a greater or lesser extent, stable patterns of atoms.

Etc.

Back to Nichols, a bit later in the article (p. 77):

In this case, however, it’s one that allows us to understand the paradox of medieval narrative forms whose ‘stability’ over time – in some cases over several centuries – depends on what I call the generative – or regenerative – force of transmission. Why ‘regenerative’ if transmission involves reproducing the ‘same’ work from one representation to another? The answer to that question involves recognizing the complex forces at play in the transmission of me- dieval texts, beginning with concepts like ‘the same’ and ‘seeing’ or ‘perspective’. After all, in a culture where the technology of transmission depends on copying each text by hand, what the scribe sees, or thinks she or he sees, must be factored into our definition of ‘sameness’ when comparing original and copy.

In the event, ‘sameness’, for the medieval mind had a very different connotation from our modern senses of the term. Indeed, it even involves a different process of perception and imagination. Whereas in our age of mechanical and digital reproduction, we are used to standards of ‘exactness’ for things we recognize as identical, me- dieval people had neither the means nor the expectation to make ‘same’ and ‘exact imitation’ synonymous. Indeed, one may even question the existence at that time of such a concept as ‘exact imitation’, at least as we understand it. Continue reading “Mutable stability in the transmission of medieval texts”

Monkey vocal tracts are speech-ready

A new paper in Science Advances (Fitch, de Boer, Mathur & Ghazanfar, 2016) uses models informed by x-rays of macaque vocal tracts to claim that monkeys have the tools neccessary to make enough speech sounds to create a productive spoken language. This means that the evolution of speech is likely to be primarily dependent on cognitive adaptation, rather than adaptation of the vocal tract.

Abstract here:

For four decades, the inability of nonhuman primates to produce human speech sounds has been claimed to stem from limitations in their vocal tract anatomy, a conclusion based on plaster casts made from the vocal tract of a monkey cadaver. We used x-ray videos to quantify vocal tract dynamics in living macaques during vocalization, facial displays, and feeding. We demonstrate that the macaque vocal tract could easily produce an adequate range of speech sounds to support spoken language, showing that previous techniques based on postmortem samples drastically underestimated primate vocal capabilities. Our findings imply that the evolution of human speech capabilities required neural changes rather than modifications of vocal anatomy. Macaques have a speech-ready vocal tract but lack a speech-ready brain to control it.