For students


This is information for Linguistics Master students who follow the research meetings as a Special Topic. For each meeting, I will post the relevant literature, slides and/or assignments on this page (in reverse chronological order). The requirements for the Origins of Language Special Topic can be found below. 

Meeting #8: The role of cultural transmission, cognitive biases and population structure in linguistic universals

Christiansen, M. H. and Chater, N. (2008). Language as shaped by the brain. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 31(5):489–508; discussion 509–58.

Kirby, S., Dowman, M., and Griffiths, T. L. (2007). Innateness and culture in the evolution of language. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104(12):5241–5245.


Meeting #7: A biological perspective on origins of language: Parallels between birdsong and human speech

Bolhuis JJ, Okanoya K, Scharff C (2010) Twitter evolution: Converging mechanisms in birdsong and human speech. Nat Rev Neurosci 11:747–759.

Sanne Moormana, Sharon M. H. Gobesa, Maaike Kuijpers, Amber Kerkhofs, Matthijs A. Zandbergen, and Johan J. Bolhuis (2012). Human-like brain hemispheric dominance in birdsong learning. PNAS 109(31): 12782–12787.


Meeting #6: The origin of spoken language

Lieberman, P. (2007). The Evolution of Human Speech, Current Anthropology, 48(1), 39-66.

Zuidema, W. & de Boer, B. (2009). The Evolution of Combinatorial Phonology, Journal of Phonetics, 37(2), 125–144. 


Meeting #5: The CC-theory of the origin of language by Jan Odijk

Hauser, M.D., N. Chomsky & W.T. Fitch (2002), ‘The Faculty of Language: what is it, who has it, and how did it evolve’, Science 298, 1569-1579.

(avalaible here )
(also at )

Steven Pinker, S. & R. Jackendoff (2005), ‘The faculty of language: what’s special about it?’ Cognition 95, pp.201-236

(available here)

(also at


Optionally, Jan Odijk’s paper on the CC-theory of the origin of language:

Odijk, J. 2011, ‘The CC-Theory of the Origin of Language’, unpublished, downloadable from


Meeting #4: Where is language in evolution of language? Problems which help is needed to solve! by Riny Huijbregts


Robert Berwick and Noam Chomsky (2011). The Biolinguistic Program: The Current State of its Evolution. In: The Biolinguistic Enterprise. Oxford University Press. 

Robert C. Berwick, Paul Pietroski, Beracah Yankama, Noam Chomsky (2011). Poverty of the stimulus revisited. Cognitive Science 35, 1207–1242.

Noam Chomsky (2010). Some simple evo devo theses: how true might they be for language? In: the Evolution of Human Language. Cambridge University Press. 


Meeting #3: discussion session chaired by Johan Bolhuis


Robert C. Berwick, Angela D. Friederici, Noam Chomsky, and Johan J. Bolhuis (in press). Evolution, brain, and the nature of language. To appear in Trends in Cognitive Science.



Meeting #2: Eric Reuland


  • Eric Reuland, 2010. Imagination, Planning, and Working Memory: The Emergence of Language. Current Anthropology, 51(S1), S99-S110.
  • Coolidge, F., Overmann, K., & Wynn, T. (2010). Recursion: what is it, who has it, and how did it evolve? Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science DOI: 10.1002/wcs.131
Do not forget to submit your summaries (by e-mail or on paper; see below under ‘requirements’).


Meeting #1: Introduction

Literature: The reading material for the first meeting is Chapter 1 and Chapter 2.1-2.5 from ‘The evolution of language’ by Tecumseh Fitch. 

The slides of the presentations are available as a .zip file here.




course code: LIMV07005 (this is the general code for Special Topic)

1. You attend the meetings. There will be 12 meetings in total.

2. Connected to the meetings, relevant literature will be provided. You read the literature in advance of the meetings and write a short summary (half page) of each article you read. There will be 15-18 articles in total. You can send your summaries by e-mail to Marieke Schouwstra, or print them and hand them in before the meetings.

3. On a couple of occasions (will be announced), you prepare a question for the speaker.

4. You write a paper, but depending on whether you subscribed for 5 or for 7,5 ECTS you do the following:

  • 5 ECTS: write a short paper with a literature overview on a topic of your choice (~ 5 pages)
  • 7.5 ECTS: formulate a research question for a longer paper, give a short presentation about your topic, and write a paper (~ 10 pages)