Next meeting May 7: Sean Roberts (MPI)

The next Origins of Language meeting will take place on May 7, 17:15-19:00, in the Sweelinckzaal, Drift 21. 

Sean Roberts (MPI, Nijmegen) will present a talk about The role of cultural transmission, cognitive biases and population structure in linguistic universals. Abstract: 

Patterns are observable in the distribution of linguistic features that exist in the languages of the world.  A strong nativist assumption would be that these linguistic universals are constrained by genetic factors, and so they accurately reflect the innate biases of the human brain.  However, while humans have evolved biologically to speak complex languages (e.g., Berwick et al., 2013), languages have also evolved to adapt to the cognitive niche of human brains and human culture (Christiansen & Chater, 2008).  Computational models and artificial language learning experiments have shown that weak, domain-general cognitive biases in individuals can be amplified into strong linguistic universals by being repeatedly transmitted through a bottleneck (Kirby, Dowman & Griffiths, 2007; Kirby, Cornish & Smith, 2008).  This means that the nativist explanation of linguistic structure is sufficient, but not necessary.  In this talk, I’ll show that the debate about the mapping between individual, cognitive biases and population-level linguistic universals depends on our assumptions about cognitive biases, population structure and also about how to represent languages.  I suggest that bilingualism and dynamic population structures are important parts of the story of language evolution.

I hope to see you all there!