May 21st: Gabriel Beckers (UU)

The next Origins of Language meeting will take place on May 21st, 17:15-19:00, Kromme Nieuwegracht 80, Stijlkamer van Ravesteyn (room 1.06). 

Gabriël Beckers, behavioural neurobiologist (UU), will present a talk entitled On syntactic abilities in birds.

 A new and promising direction in the emerging interdisciplinary field of biolinguistic research is that of syntax processing. Although there is so far no indication that any non-human animal produces anything like the full syntactic complexity of human language, birdsong does have a ‛phonological syntax’, as its constituent acoustic elements are often organized according to particular syntactic constraints. Surprisingly, recent research has also shown that birds are able to perceive complex syntactic patterns  in artificial vocal sequences that are generated by a center-embedding context-free grammar. I will discuss these studies as the exact nature of the underlying rules that are used remain hotly debated. Furthermore, I will discuss a new intracerebral, electrical high-density neuroimaging paradigm that may be used to test for avian syntactic abilities and to investigate underlying neural mechanisms.