“a post on Pinker and Bloom’s original paper, and how the field has developed over these last twenty years, at some point in the next couple of weeks,”
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
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: