FRS 116

The Evolution of Human Language

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When, where, why and how did human language originate and evolve? What degree of societal organization was necessary for it to arise? This seminar will explore these old and fascinating questions, drawing upon many different fields of investigation such as paleontology, archaeology, animal communication, neurobiology, genetics and statistics. We will first seek to identify the essential properties of human language that distinguish it from animal communication, giving close attention to the documented birth of languages such as Creoles and Nicaraguan Sign Language. We will also consider non-linguistic behaviors (sobbing, laughing) with communicative functions that involve brain areas dedicated to language processing. And what are we to make of recent evidence that chimps, gorillas and vervet monkeys communicate in sophisticated ways that engage some of the same brain regions involved in human language processing? Our inquiries will ultimately lead us back into an ancient realm of cave paintings, fertility figurines and fossil records as we seek to understand whether human language is a cultural product or an innate cognitive faculty.

Tuesdays 1:30-4:20pm

View this course on the Registrar’s website.

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