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Lecture 1 Introduction. The Origins of Language Jordan Zlatev. What this course is about. Origin s ” of language (not “Origin”): Biological Ecological Social Cultural Linguistic

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The Origins of Language Jordan Zlatev


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    1. Lecture 1 Introduction The Origins of LanguageJordan Zlatev

    2. What this course is about • Origins” of language (not “Origin”): • Biological • Ecological • Social • Cultural • Linguistic - factors and processes, from about 6 million years up to now, leading to present day languages (and human beings)

    3. Why study language origins? • Understand the nature of language • Understand better who we are (i.e. human nature) • Understand better the nature of evolution, and the interconnectedness of all living beings

    4. “The Semiotic Hierarchy” (Zlatev 2009, Vol. 4 Cognitive Semiotics)

    5. Skeptics… • The Linguistics Society of Paris, 1866: forbidding speculation on the origin of language • “The is a long history of study of origin of language, asking how it arose from calls of apes and so forth. That investigation in my view is a complete waste of time…” (Chomsky 1988: 183)

    6. … change their minds! • “We argue that an understanding of the faculty of language requires substantial interdisciplinary cooperation.” (Hauser, Chomsky and Fitch 2002: 1569) • “Language evolution research must necessarily be cross-disciplinary in order to provide sufficient constraints on theorizing to make it a legitimate scientific inquiry” (Christiansen and Kirby 2003: 300)

    7. Evolution of Language International Conferences (EVOLANG) • 1996 Edinburgh • 1998 London • 2000 Paris • 2002 Harvard • 2004 Leipzig • 2006 Rome • 2008 Barcelona • 2010 Utrecht “Language evolution research must necessarily be cross-disciplinary…”

    8. What kind of “constraints”? • Primatology: an approximate idea of the START of the process (“the last common ancestor”, LCA) • Evolutionary theory (biology/psychology): the PATH (selective pressures etc) • Paleontology: fossils and artifacts (“stones and bones”) • Cultural anthropology: e.g. hunter gather societies • Developmental linguistics: analogies with evolution + “learned vs. innate”

    9. What kind of “constraints”? • Historical linguistics: processes of historical change, grammaticalization and “linguistic selection” (cf. Heine & Kuteva 2002) • Cognitive science, psycho/neuro-linguistics: the biological bases for language and thought • Semiotics: language in relation to other semiotic resources: calls, gestures, pictures etc. (cf. Burling 2005) • Linguistics: as good idea as possible of the OUTCOME

    10. What a theory of “the evolution of language” needs to answer • What is it that evolved? (“innate syntax”, capacity for sign use, vocal imitation…?) • How did it evolve? (pre-adaptations, stages, transitions…) • When and where did it evolve? (Locate the processes in time and space) • Why did it evolve? (ecological changes, selective pressures…)

    11. Some candidates • Merlin Donald, Origins of the Modern Mind, (1991): mimesis, cultural evolution • Terrance Deacon, The Symbolic Species (1997): brain-language co-evolution • Michael Tomasello, The Evolution of Human Communication (2008): gesture and shared intentionality • Derek Bickerton, Adam’s Tongue (2009): niche construction, a plausible “why” story

    12. Choice of course book • Sverker Johansson, Origins of Language: Contraints on Hypotheses (2005) • As the title says: first constraints, then evaluation of hypotheses • Goal: not a definite theory, but limiting the space of probability • Balanced, and objective (though the author was my student…) • Guest lecture on Nov 12: Biological and cultural evolution

    13. Course schedule

    14. Examination • Group project • One page, 19/11 • Presentation 11/1 2011 • Take-home exam, given out Jan 11, 2011 OR • Independent essay on a relevant topic (possibly related to group project) (Submitted: Jan 18, 2011)

    15. Exercise: “Meet Lucy” • Watch the following film clip (about 2 minutes from National Geographic: The Ultimate Survivor). Discuss: • In which ways is Lucy similar to and different from other great apes? • What kind of implications do the differences have for hominid evolution? (It is not certain that “Lucy” (Australopithecus afarensis) was our direct ancestor.)

    16. The upright posture “The shape and function of the human body are determined in almost every detail, by and for, the upright posture” (Erwin Straus 1966: 138), e.g. • Space and perception: more importance to vision than olfaction (also, more “distant vision”: planning) • Freeing the hands: grasping, manipulating, gesturing… • Olfactory mechanisms do not dominate facial structure: vocalization • “Premature” birth: prolonged immaturity (neotony), profound influences on ontogentic development

    17. “Body before brain” principle • It is mistaken to think that evolution is provoked by brain growth (or “rewiring”) • Rather, changes occur first in the body (and behavior), and the brain evolves only with time

    18. A naïve view of language evolution • “In some small group from which we all descend, a rewiring of the brain took place yeilding the operation of unbounded Merge… The individual so rewired had many advantages: capacities for complex thought, planning, interpretation and so on. The capacity is transmitted to offspring, coming to predominate. At that stage, there would be an advantage to externalization…” (Chomsky 2005, talk at State University, NY, quoted by Bickerton 2009: 181)