When talking about language evolution there’s always a resistance from people exclaiming; ‘but how do we know?’, ‘surely all of this is conjecture!’ and, because of this, ‘what’s the point?’
Thomas Scott-Phillips and Simon Kirby have written a new article (in press) in ‘Trends in Cognitive Science’ which addresses some of the techniques currently used to address language evolution using experiments in the laboratory.
The Problem of language evolution
The problem of language evolution is one which encompasses not only the need to explain biologically how language came about but also how language came to be how it is today through processes of cultural evolution. Because of this potential ambiguity arises when using the term ‘language evolution’. To sort this ambiguity the authors put forward the following:
Language evolution researchers are interested in the processes that led to a qualitative change from a non-linguistic state to a linguistic one. In other words, language evolution is concerned with the emergence of language
Continue reading “Language evolution in the laboratory”
Much of recent research in linguistics has involved the use of experimentation to directly test hypotheses by comparing and contrasting real-world data with that of laboratory results and computer simulations. In a previous post I looked at how humans, non-human primates, and even non-human animals are all capable of high-fidelity cultural transmission. Yet, to apply this framework to human language, another set of experimental literature needs to be considered, namely: artificial language learning and constructed communication systems.
Continue reading “Experiments in Communication pt 1: Artificial Language Learning and Constructed Communication Systems”
Of my random meanderings around the Internet, I think the coolest thing I’ve seen this past week certainly has to be the Steampunk sequencer:
With that out of the way, here are some links:
- In somewhat keeping with the theme from some links 2’s look at primitive writing systems, comes a post from the excellent Not Exactly Rocket Science: An 60,000-year old artistic movement recorded in Ostrich egg shells.
- More on topic of writing systems is Kevin Mitchell’s post on Why Johnny can’t read (but Jane can). Essentially, the post is asking: why dyslexia is about twice as common in boys as in girls?
- Is synaesthesia a high-level brain power? I’m not sure, but that’s the question being asked over at New Scientist.
- Science Daily claims: Simple math explains dramatic beak shape variation in Darwin’s finches. Key paragraph: “Using digitization techniques, the researchers found that 14 distinct beak shapes, that at first glance look unrelated, could be categorized into three broader, group shapes. Despite the striking variety of sizes and shapes, mathematically, the beaks within a particular group only differ by their scales.”
- Pamelia Brown has 50 Fascinating Lectures All About Your Brain. I’ve only managed to watch one of the videos (see below), so I’m certain that there is at least one fascinating lecture…
- Be sure to check out the Kahn Academy — a not-for-profit organisation that provides some great educational resources. For those of you interested in demographics and the quantitative analysis of movement, then here’s a whole section on differential equations.
- Dormivigilia provides a brief overview of a paper examining the neural origins of handedness.
- Razib Kahn over at GNXP has an in-depth discussion about the convergent evolution of skin pigmentation: OCA2 makes East Asians white and Europeans blue.
- How reliable are fMRI results? Another question I’m not so sure about. However, Prefrontal.org has a full paper on providing something of an answer. The key sentence: “the results from fMRI research may be somewhat less reliable than many researchers implicitly believe.”
- Jonah Leher has a lengthy, interesting piece over at the New York Times, asking: Is depression an adaptation? Probably not. But for a more balanced perspective, read Neurocritic’s brilliant analysis of the topic.
- Laelaps writes about a paper claiming the discovery a 4,300 year old chimpanzee nut-cracking site: Uncovering the “Chimpanzee Stone Age”.
- Lastly, Jeff Elman, UCSD professor of cognitive science and co-director of the Kavli Institute for Brain and Mind, presents a lecture on some of the latest research in our ability to use language and why it is so far removed from other animal communication systems:
As part of my assessment this term I’m to write four mock peer-reviewed items for a module called Current Issues in Language Evolution. It’s a great module run by Simon Kirby, examining some of the best food for thought in the field. Alone this is an interesting endeavour, after all we’re right in the middle of a language evolution renaissance, however, even cooler are the lectures, where students get to do their own presentations on a particular paper. I already did my presentation at the start of this term, on Dediu and Ladd’s paper, which went rather well, even if one of my slip ups did not go unnoticed (hint: always label the graphs). So, over the next few weeks, in amongst additional posts covering some of the presentations in class, I’ll hopefully be writing articles on these four five papers:
Continue reading “Current Issues in Language Evolution”