Colloquium: Shigeru Miyagawa - "The Integration Hypothesis of Human Language Evolution and Its Implications for the Study of Contemporary Languages"


Jan
31
2014

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  • Host Department: Linguistics
  • Date: 01/31/2014
  • Time: 04:00PM - 05:30PM

  • Location: 3254 LSA

  • Description:

    "The Integration Hypothesis of Human Language Evolution and Its Implications for the Study of Contemporary Languages"

    How human language arose is a great mystery in the evolution of Homo sapiens. While it is extremely challenging to directly confirm any hypothesis of the actual process that led to the emergence of language, it is possible to formulate a theory that is broadly compatible with what we find in contemporary systems of communication among mammals, birds, and humans. Miyagawa, Berwick, & Okanoya (Frontiers of Psychology 2013) put forward one such hypothesis, which we will call the Integration Hypothesis of human language evolution. The Integration Hypothesis holds that human language is composed of two components, E, for expressive, and L, for lexical. Each component has an antecedent in nature: E as found, for example, in birdsong, and L in, for example, the alarm calls of monkeys. A challenge to the Integration Hypothesis is that while these non-human systems are finite-state in nature, human language is known to require characterization by a non-finite state grammar. Our claim is that E and L, taken separately, are finite-state; when a grammatical process crosses the boundary between E and L it gives rise to the non-finite state character of human language. We provide empirical evidence for the Integration Hypothesis by showing that certain processes that have been characterized as non-finite state in nature can in fact be shown to be finite-state. We also speculate on how human language actually arose in evolution through the lens of the Integration Hypothesis.

    This is a collaboration with R. Berwick, K. Okanoya, and S. Ojima