Language Games with the Museum of Parallel Art

I’ve just found a new online game called the museum of parallel art (thanks to my friend Robin). The info on the trailer reads as follows:

Visiting the virtual Museum of Parallel Art is a very special experience you’ll share with someone. You’ll express your thoughts and feelings towards art with cards, or try to view the world as your peer and guess the cards he or she has played. Comparing cards will prompt conversation and is sure to connect you two.

This game was originally made in 48 hours by Neverpants (Dom2D, technobeanie & seventysevian), featuring art both classic and new, with contributions by many amazing artists like Anthony Clark, Justin Chan, Nic ter Horst, Tom Eccles, Aliceffekt and way more! Randomly generated from a database of over 200 “paintings” and a multitude of cards, the Museum of Parallel Art is different every time you visit.

Museum of Parallel Art – Trailer from Dom2D on Vimeo.

Basically, it’s an online game where you go through a digital museum with 10 cards which you need to assign to 6 random paintings. You decide which card represents which painting the best. Then a partner does the same thing, but instead of making their own connections, they have to guess which cards the first person placed on each painting.

Why am I mentioning this on replicated typo? It seems to me that this game could potentially make a fun language game experiment  because choosing the same card to represent a painting is tantamount to deciding on a signal to represent that painting.  Researchers could potentially use this paradigm as a fun way to look at the effects of iconicity on bootstrapping communication systems, or look at how communication strategies arise over repeated instances of the game.

An article on Rock, Paper, Shotgun already hypothesised that during the second round of the game, the cards had much less transparency between the paintings they were meant to represent. Though perhaps this might just be because of the paintings being randomly generated from a set of hundreds of paintings.  It’s also interesting to think about the levels of theory of mind you need to play this game, or the effects of having a shared history with the person you are playing with.

You can download and play the museum of parallel art here: http://www.freeindiegam.es/2014/02/museum-of-parallel-art-neverpants-various-artists/


Retiring Procrustean Linguistics

Many of you are probably already aware of the Edge 2014 question: what scientific ideas are ready for retirement? The question was derived from the Kuhnian-esque, and somewhat tongue-in-cheek, quote by theoretical physicist Max Planck:

A new scientific theory does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.

Some of the big themes that jumped out at me were bashing the scientific method, bemoaning our enthusiasm for big data and showing us how we don’t understand and routinely misapply statistics. Other relevant candidates that popped up for retirement were culturelearninghuman natureinnateness, and brain plasticity. Lastly, on the language front, we had Benjamin Bergen and Nick Enfield weighing in against universal grammar and linguistic competency, whilst John McWhorter rallied against strong linguistic relativity and Dan Sperber challenged our conventional understanding of meaning.

And just so you’re aware: I’m not necessarily in agreement with all of the perspectives I’ve linked to above, but I do think a lot of them are interesting and definitely worth a read (if only to clarify your own position on the matters). On this note, you should probably go over and read Norbert Hornstein’s post about the flaws of Bergen’s argument, which basically boil down to a conflation between I-languages and E-languages (and where we should expect to observe universal properties).

If I had to offer my own candidate for retirement, then it would be what Anne Buchanan over at the excellent blog, The Mermaid’s Tale, termed Procrustean Science:

In classical Greek mythology, Procrustes was a criminal who produced an iron bed and made his victims fit the bed…by cutting off any parts of their bodies that didn’t fit. The metaphorical use of the word means “enforcing uniformity or conformity without regard to natural variation or individuality.” It is in this spirit that Woese characterized much of modern biology as procrustean, because rather than adapt its explanations to the facts, the facts are forced to lie in a bed of theory that is taken for granted–and thus, the facts must fit!

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What made us human? Biological and cultural Evolution of Homo sapiens

There are some interesting speakers at this workshop with some talking about language evolution:

What made us human? Biological and cultural Evolution of Homo sapiens

Erice, Sicily, October 14-19, 2014

Purpose of the workshop:

The science of human evolution has recently been changing rapidly. We know that Homo sapiens is the last surviving branch of a once-luxuriant tree of hominid species. For until very recent times, our lineage shared the planet with several other human species, like Homo neanderthalensis, Homo erectus and Homo floresiensis. Following its biological and anatomical birth in Africa, around 200,000 years ago, Homo sapiens spread around the world following multiple paths of expansion that we can now track using the techniques of molecular biology, ancient DNA studies and paleoanthropology. In this global, ecological and demographic scenario, at one point our species began, somewhere, to express cognitively modern behaviors: a “symbolic intelligence” so peculiar that scientists view it as the hallmark of human creativity and uniqueness itself. Was there a gap between our biological birth and our mental birth? Was the process a gradual or a punctuational one? What triggered the so-called Paleolithic Revolution? How did our cultural evolution interact with our biological evolution? What might have been the role of other human species? Is articulate language our “secret weapon”? In the form of an interdisciplinary meeting involving prominent experts in primatology, paleoanthropology, genetics, anthropology, ethology and philosophy, the Erice International School of Ethology proposes a special workshop on human evolution, to ask, “What exactly was it that made us human?” This is perhaps the most fundamental question of all about human nature, for scientists, philosophers, theologians, and anyone interested in our history.


Quentin Atkinson (University of Auckland); Peter Brown (University of New England, Armidale, Australia); Emiliano Bruner (Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana, Sierra de Atapuerca, Burgos); Francesco D’Errico (Université Bordeaux 1); Dean Falk (Florida State University); Pier Francesco Ferrari (University of Parma); John Dupré (University of Exeter); Robert D. Martin (The Field Museum, Chicago); Robert Desalle (American Museum of Natural History, New York); Will Harcourt-Smith (Lehman College, City University of New York); Philip Lieberman (Brown University); Giuseppe Longobardi (University of York); Giorgio Manzi (La Sapienza Università, Rome); Paola Palanza (University of Parma); Stefano Parmigiani (University of Parma); Telmo Pievani (University of Padua); Thomas Plummer (Queens College, City University of New York); Yoel Rak (Tel Aviv University); Jeffrey Schwartz (University of Pittsburgh); Ian Tattersall (American Museum of Natural History, New York), Bernard Wood (George Washington University, Washington DC).


Change and diversity in human evolution. The emergence of genus Homo. The earliest stone tools and cognitive implications. Homo floresiensis. Early and Middle Pleistocene hominids of Africa. Brain evolution in genus Homo. Neanderthal origins, biology and lifestyles. Morphology of Homo sapiens and origins in Africa. DNA and putative Neanderthal/Homo sapiens hybridization. Homo sapiens dispersal around the world. Brains, culture and early imagery. Symbolic intelligence. Genes and languages. Language and the evolution of human cognition. The evolution of modern human cognition.

Further info here: https://sites.google.com/site/whatmadeushuman/

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Fellowship opportunity in Language Evolution, Edinburgh

The University of Edinburgh are offering a Chancellor’s fellowship and are keen to attract applicants particularly in the area of language evolution.  The position is a 5 year post doc that is expected to result in a permanent position.  More details are available here, including Chancellor’s fellowships in other areas of linguistics.

There’s been much anxiety about opportunities for early career researchers, but the last two years have seen a bumper crop of jobs in cultural evolution, including projects in Reading, St. Andrews, Tübingen, Rome and ANU Canberra.  The future’s bright!

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Five Year Postdoctoral Position, Australian National University: The Wellsprings of Linguistic Diversity

This is a job advert for a computational linguist/cultural evolutionist at the Australian National University in Canberra.  It’s basically the dream job for a modeller – you’ll get to help design the data that a team of field linguists collect, then be handed loads of linguistic and demographic data to model.   And 5 years is a huge amount of job security for an early career researcher.  

The official advert follows:

This position is being re-advertised with a new deadline of March 2nd 2014.

Applications are invited from suitably qualified scholars for a postdoctoral fellowship to work with Prof Nick Evans’ Laureate Fellowship project, ‘The Wellsprings of Linguistic Diversity’. The role of this position will be to develop appropriate computationally-based models of language change and diversification in small-scale and multilingual language communities, in close collaboration with a team of field linguists who will be gathering on-the-ground data from field sites in Aboriginal Australia, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Samoa, and small-scale communities in Australia (English) and Latin America (Spanish or Portuguese). Full details of the position and a background description of the project can be found at: http://jobs.anu.edu.au/PositionDetail.aspx?p=3715

This is a five year fixed term research position within the School of Culture, History and Language, ANU College of Asia and the Pacific, commencing June 30th, 2014.

The successful applicant will have a PhD in a relevant discipline. S/he will carry out independent and team based research as per project plan and focus on computational modelling of language evolution within the overall team, who will be collecting data and feeding that data back into the models being developed. The appointee will work under the supervision of the Laureate Project Leader and work closely with other team members and PhD students working on the project in the design and analysis of linguistic data to be gathered across a range of small-scale speech communities, since the goal of the project is to achieve a new type of interaction between detailed sociolinguistic field research on small-scale communities and computational approaches to modelling linguistic change and diversification. They will interact informally with a wide range of scholars in Linguistics and neighbouring disciplines.

The purpose of this position is to provide computational modelling expertise within the overall team, so as to (a) develop models of how micro-variation iterates over many generations to produce linguistic change (b) model the effects of multilingualism and societal scale and structure on the evolution of linguistic diversity and disparity (c) work with project members gathering linguistic and social data in a range of small-scale speech communities to design appropriate data structures for the representation and analysis of linguistic, cultural and demographic data (d) test theoretical models against the actual linguistic data collected by project members, and feed that data back into the models being developed. Ample opportunities for publication will exist, both individually and with various combinations of project members.

For further information, please contact:

Prof Nick Evans

Ph: +61 (0)2 6125 0028

Em: nicholas.evans@anu.edu.au


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Workshop: On the Emergence of Consensus and Misunderstanding: Models and Experiments

Call for participants for an interdisciplinary workshop “On the Emergence of Consensus and Misunderstanding: Models and Experiments“.  The workshop will be held at La Sapienza University in Rome, Italy, 24-25 of February, 2014.

Understanding the origins and evolution of consensus and misunderstanding is one of the most stimulating areas of research in cognitive and social sciences. This challenging question touches on all aspects of cognition and social interaction, calling for creative thinking and casting fundamental issues in cognitive science in a new light.

This workshop aims to highlight issues surrounding consensus and misunderstanding by showcasing two core lines of research: theoretical modeling and experiments. Modelling is a crucial tool in the investigation of how consensus and dominant norms emerge in societies, or rather, how fragmentation and misunderstanding phenomena occur. This is relevant for the dynamics of language, opinions and other cultural traits,  and the processes of individual and collective decision making. From the level of the single individual, to pairs in interaction, to populations of heterogeneous agents, formal models are ubiquitously used to make systematic observations, uncover regularities, advance hypotheses, and test their predictions. However, while such “bare-bones” models can illuminate the skeletal dynamics at work, it is becoming more and more urgent to parallel computational investigations with carefully devised social experiments. Such experiments must aim to investigate specific aspects of how individuals make decisions and how these decisions affect large-scale dynamics at the population level. Increasingly, the opportunity to run large-scale web-based experiments makes the collection of data regarding actual social behaviour more feasible.

This workshop will focus around talks and discussion featuring ongoing empirical work relevant to emergent consensus and misunderstanding, from both modeling and experimental approaches.  Bringing together perspectives from psychology, physics, linguistics, and philosophy, the workshop will provide an interdisciplinary approach catered to the nature of the broad phenomena of consensus and misunderstanding.

If you are interested in presenting a poster or talk at the workshop, go to the registration page and provide a short abstract in the “Abstract” field.  You will receive information regarding your presentation (i.e., poster or talk) by January 5, 2014.


First International Association for Cognitive Semiotics Conference

Call for abstracts:

September 25-27, 2014, Lund, Sweden

The First International Association for Cognitive Semiotics (IACS) Conference (IACS-2014) will be held in September 25-27, at Lund University, Sweden. Founded in Aarhus, Denmark, on May 29, 2013, The International Association for Cognitive Semiotics aims at the further establishment of Cognitive Semiotics as the trans-disciplinary study of meaning, combining concepts, theories and methods from the humanities and the social and natural sciences. Central topics are the evolution, development of, and interaction between different semiotic resources such as language, gestures and pictorial representations.

Plenary speakers

Theme of the conference: Establishing Cognitive Semiotics

Over the past two decades or so, a number of researchers from semiotics, linguistics, cognitive science and related fields, from several European and North American research centres, have experienced the needs to combine theoretical knowledge and methodological expertise in order to be able to tackle challenging questions concerning the nature of meaning, the role of consciousness, the unique cognitive features of mankind, the interaction of nature and nurture in development, and the interplay of biological and cultural evolution in phylogeny. The product of these collaborations has been the emergence of the field of Cognitive Semiotics, with its own journal (http://www.degruyter.com/view/j/cogsem) and academic association. The conference aims both to celebrate this, and to look forward into possibilities for further development.

We invite the submission of 400 word abstracts (excluding title and references) for one of the three categories:

1. Oral presentations (20 min presentation + 5 minute discussion)

2. Posters (at a dedicated poster session)

3. Theme sessions (3 to 6 thematically linked oral presentations.)
Such proposals are to include: (a) Title of proposed session, (b) name(s) of convener(s), (c) max 400 word motivation of the session, (d) abstracts for 3 to 6 individual papers, (e) name of discussant - if such is involved. All this information should be sent TOGETHER to the conference organizers at iacs-2014@semiotik.lu.se

The individual abstracts should be preceded by an abstract for the theme session as a whole. In case the theme session is not accepted, individual abstracts will be reviewed as submissions for oral presentations.)

The abstracts can be related, though need not be restricted, to the following topics:

• Biological and cultural evolution of human cognitive specificity
• Cognitive linguistics and phenomenology
• Communication across cultural barriers
• Cross-species comparative semiotics
• Evolutionary perspectives on altruism
• Experimental semiotics
• Iconicity in language and other semiotic resources
• Intersubjectivity and mimesis in evolution and development
• Multimodality
• Narrativity across different media
• Semantic typology and linguistic relativity
• Semiosis (sense-making) in social interaction
• Semiotic and cognitive development in children
• Sign use and cognition
• Signs, affordances, and other meanings
• Speech and gesture
• The comparative semiotics of iconicity and indexicality
• The evolution of language

Individual abstracts should be submitted at the site of the conference. Note: you need to register first, by clicking on Registration Page to the left, and then follow the instructions.

Important dates

• Deadline for submission of theme sessions: 31 Dec 2013 (by email)
• Deadline for abstract submission (oral presentations, posters): 1 Feb 2014  (by website)
• Notification of acceptance (theme sessions): 15 Feb 2014
• Notification of acceptance (oral presentations, posters): 1 April 2014
• Last date for early registration: 1 July 2014


Koalas use a novel vocal organ to produce unusually low-pitched mating calls

Before Tecumseh Fitch put forward the size exaggeration hypothesis, many thought that the lowered larynx was unique to humans, which suggested that it was an adaptation specifically for the production of speech. However, Fitch showed that lowered larynxes appear in other animals, most notably the red deer, to exaggerate their perceived body-size by making the low calls of a typically larger animal. Whether this is the adaptive pressure that caused the human larynx to lower is still a controversial issue, and I talk about a couple of hypotheses here.

I was reminded of this this morning when I saw this Koala on the BBC news making incredibly low mating calls. However, the Koala don’t achieve this incredibly low bellow by lowering their larynx, instead they have an extra, larger pair of (previously undocumented) vocal folds spanning the intra-pharyngeal ostium (IPO), an oval opening within the velum.

The really short paper, along with a really creepy figure of a koala cut in two, is here:



Lakoff lecture that debuts his current neural theory and has a detail concerning “meander”

Here’s a video of a lecture Lakoff recently gave at the Central European University. It’s cued to the beginning, but the segement that particularly interests me starts at about 11:03:

The specific point that interests me concerns the verb “to meander.” Here’s what Lakoff says; he’s talking about work done by Teenie Matlock:

What she pointed out, experimentally, was that if you take the difference between the road runs through the valley and the road meanders through the valley it takes longer to understand meander. Because you’re tracing it in your mind, you’re tracing the path, eventhough the road is just sitting there, right? You’re understanding it in terms of motion.

Why does that interest me? “Kubla Khan”, what else?

ll. 3-7, look at the verbs:

Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns meaureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round:

ll. 25-26

Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,

There, in line 25, we have meandering, one of the verbs Lakoff mentioned. I’m not sure of the significance except that THAT part of the poem is set in a conceptual space that is structured by time while the earlier lines, which also mention the rive, is set in a conceptual space that is structured by space.

Finally, I do have a quibble with this FORM IS MOTION business. It is this, when researching Beethoven’s Anvil I looked at some of the literature on navigation and found that, contrary to my intuitions, that navigation by landmarks is a secondary method, not primary. The primary method is dead-reckoning. In dead-reckoning distance traversed is a function of elapsed time and speed. If you walk for three hours (on one heading) at the rate of four miles per hour you will have traversed 12 miles.

What’s interesting is that speed conflates/combines time AND space. And it seems to be primitive here. Whatever the nervous system is doing, it’s NOT noting distance and then dividing by time to come up with speed. Why not? Because you can’t do that until the traverse is complete. Rather, it’s got an ongoing estimate of speed and that’s what it uses.

I’ve not read their latest stuff on this, on the one hand, nor have I really tried to think this through, on the other hand. So maybe they’ve got it all worked out. But at the moment I’m thinking they don’t.

Also, THIS has to be differentiated from judging form relative to eye movements used to trace form, which Lakoff and Turner alluded to in More Than Cool Reason. These are two different mechanisms, eye tracing and navigation. They may both involve time and space, but they’re neurally and functionally different. How does THAT difference show up in language? Continue reading

Culture, its evolution and anything inbetween