How Language Evolves

Event Dates: 
Feb 20, 2015 -
1:00pm to 5:30pm

This symposium addresses the question of how human language came to have the kind of structure it has, focusing on three sources of evidence: 1) ways languages get new structure not present in the language of the previous generation(s) of speakers or signers; 2) what contrasts between new and mature languages reveal about how language evolves; and 3) neuroscientific investigations of functional specialization for language in the human brain and its dependence on the linguistic input the language learner gets during cognitive development.

Event Sessions

Media for each talk can be played by clicking on icons in the "Media" column, or by clicking on the individual talk titles below and then the attachment file at the bottom of the page.

Date Media Session Title Speakers Abstract Location
Fri 2/20 File Welcome Pascal Gagneux UCSD - Institute of the Americas; Hojel Hall of the Americas Auditorium
Fri 2/20 File Opening Remarks Roger Levy UCSD - Institute of the Americas; Hojel Hall of the Americas Auditorium
Fri 2/20 File Language Evolution in the Lab: The Emergence of Design Features Simon Kirby

The emergence of language has been called the most recent major transition in the evolution of life on earth. It gives our species the remarkable ability to accurately communicate entirely novel... more

UCSD - Institute of the Americas; Hojel Hall of the Americas Auditorium
Fri 2/20 File Contact Languages and Light Warlpiri Carmel O'Shannessy

Contact languages represent some of the ways that new languages can be created, as they systematically combine elements from more than one existing language, resulting in novel linguistic systems... more

UCSD - Institute of the Americas; Hojel Hall of the Americas Auditorium
Fri 2/20 File Rethinking Recapitulation: Sources of Structure in Nicaraguan Sign Language Ann Senghas

The emergence of a new sign language in Nicaragua provides a real-world opportunity to discover the relationship between individual language development and language creation. Nicaraguan Sign... more

UCSD - Institute of the Americas; Hojel Hall of the Americas Auditorium
Fri 2/20 File Co-emergence of Meaning and Structure in a New Language Mark Aronoff

About 20 new and young sign languages from around the world have been reported in the research literature. They have drawn interest because they provide a unique opportunity not available in... more

UCSD - Institute of the Americas; Hojel Hall of the Americas Auditorium
Fri 2/20 File Combinatoriality within the Word: Sign Language Evidence David Perlmutter

In human languages, spoken and signed, words or signs are products of combinatorial systems that combine meaningless smaller units in different ways to yield different words or signs with... more

UCSD - Institute of the Americas; Hojel Hall of the Americas Auditorium
Fri 2/20 File What Can You Say without Syntax? Ray Jackendoff

A language can be thought of as a mapping between sound (or, in sign languages, gesture) and meaning (or concepts). In a developed language such as English, this mapping makes use of syntactic... more

UCSD - Institute of the Americas; Hojel Hall of the Americas Auditorium
Fri 2/20 File Specialization for Language in the Human Brain Evelina Fedorenko

The human language system evolved against the backdrop of other, evolutionarily older systems. How does the language system fit with the rest of our mind and brain? Does it rely on specialized... more

UCSD - Institute of the Americas; Hojel Hall of the Americas Auditorium
Fri 2/20 File How the Environment Shapes Language in the Brain Rachel Mayberry

Sign language is similar to spoken language in fundamental ways: their linguistic structure is similar, they are produced and comprehended in similar ways, and the language regions of the brain’s... more

UCSD - Institute of the Americas; Hojel Hall of the Americas Auditorium
Fri 2/20 File Neuroscience of Speech Perception and Speech Production Edward Chang

A unique and defining trait of human behavior is our ability to communicate through speech. Our laboratory is interested in determining the basic mechanisms that underlie our ability to perceive... more

UCSD - Institute of the Americas; Hojel Hall of the Americas Auditorium
Fri 2/20 File Wrap Up, Question and Answer, and Closing Remarks Fred Gage UCSD - Institute of the Americas; Hojel Hall of the Americas Auditorium