Language Evolution: Fundamental Questions
Readings: Deacon (2003); Tomasello (2003)
- What is the paradox that Deacon thinks lies in the question of language origin/evolution?
- What are the four theoretical paradigms proposed by researchers to explain the basis of human language? What are the merits of thinking of language in each of these different ways?
- Deacon mentioned that a language-like signal would exhibit a combinatorial form and the correlations between individual signals and the objects that form the context should not exhibit a simple one-to-one mapping. What does he mean? Does animal communication exhibit this feature?
- What is a "hopeful monster" theory? What makes Chomsky's theory a hopeful monster theory, according to Deacon?
- What is Deacon's story of language evolution? What is his view about a simpler language existing at some point?
- What is “joint attention”? How is it related to pointing? Does Tomasello view joint attention as important for understanding evolution of language? (Hint: yes). Why
- What is joint attention and what is the connection between it and word-learning? (Recall the experiments I talked about in which dogs could follow human points while wolves and chimps could not).
- What are some motivations for positing a Universal Grammar
- What is transitive reasoning?
- According to Tomasello, how do young children begin to learn grammatical and abstract constructions? (Hint: it may include the following: pattern-matching, applying an innately-understood abstract rule, imitation, rote memorization, using relational analogies, exploiting a genetic predisposition to grammar, categorization)
- How does Tomasello’s example of “My boyfriend, who plays the piano, is in a band” (p. 103) inform thinking about the evolution of grammar? How does it relate to cultural evolution and iterated learning?
(optional) Christiansen & Kirby (2003)
- What are some reasons for why studying language evolution is difficult and why does it require an interdisciplinary approach?
- According to Christiansen & Kirby, what are the 3 different timescales on which one can study language evolution?
- What are some of the cognitive pre-adaptations that likely occurred in hominids prior to language?
- What are some arguments in support of a biological adaptation for grammar?
- What are some arguments in support of grammar being a product of cultural transmission?
- What are some arguments in support of the gestural vs vocal theory of language origin?
- Should we expect to find a “language gene”? Why or why not?
- How can studying artificial grammars help us understand language evolution?