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The emergence of language in the human mind

Class at Faculty of Arts |





Required Readings 1

What is emergence? Self-organizing systems, equilibria, and entropy 2

Chaos and complexity in language development

Steward, 2019 3

Percolation theory and complex networks

Siew et al., 2019 4

Darwinian selection and the origins of language

Hillert, 2015

Pagel, 2016 5

Co-opting brain structures in language evolution

Luef, 2018 6

A theory of mind, joint attention, referentiality

Tomasello, 2018

Rakoczy, 2017 7

The syntax of bird songs

Slater, 2013

Pepperberg, 2013 8

Socio-pragmatic origins of human communication

Dunbar, 2004 9

Are primates good models for language evolution?

Gibson, 2013

Schlenker, 2016 10

Universal Grammar and the shrinking language faculty

Christiansen & Chater, 2015

Hauser, Chomsky & Fitch, 2002 11

Recursion in language and elsewhere in the mind

Jackendoff, 2011 12

Emergent categories in first language acquisition

Student presentations 13

Second language as an emergent system

Student presentations  


Studies of the emergence of language focus on the evolutionary and developmental factors that affect the acquisition and auto-organization of a linguistic system. Emergent accounts of language emphasize the extent to which a complex set of communicative behaviors and forms arise from a few simple mechanisms.

Thus, they essentially describe moments in time when non-linguistic systems become linguistic. Language development is divided into distinct stages, where the appearance of one property depended on another that preceded it.

Identifying structures within emerging systems allows us to analyze interdependencies and contraints imposed by linguistic developments. Naturally, the study of the origin and emergence of language is a highly interdisciplinary endeavor.

Recent advances in the brain and cognitive sciences spurred a surge of scientific interest in language emergence, with evidence coming from comparative psychology, neuroscience, evolutionary biology, and theoretical linguistics. This seminar will survey a cross-section of modern theories, methods and research pertaining to the emergence of language from an evolutionary perspective.

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