Biolinguistics Initiative Barcelona

Biolinguistics Initiative Barcelona: April 2013

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Talk -- Anne Reboul


On Thursday, May 2, at 17.00, Anne Reboul (L2C2, CNRS, Lyons) will give a talk on "The many problems of social accounts of the evolution of language".

Abstract: Since Pinker & Bloomยดs paper in 1990, accounts of the evolution of language have multiplied. Some of them take language to be biological (to be a biological adaptation), but quite a few of them take it to be cultural (to be a cultural adaptation). A few propose that language is not an adaptation, but rather the exaptation of previous existing features that adapted under various selection pressures, having nothing to do with communication as such. Among those who see language as an adaptation, on either a biological or a cultural scenario, the currently trendy approaches are in terms of "social", though often fairly ill defined, notions such as cooperation or social cohesion.


Taking as my main examples, Dunbar's (1996, 2004) biological theory and Tomasello's (1999, 2008, 2009) cultural theory, I will argue that social accounts of language evolution are unable to account for the central feature of language, i.e. its generativity or creativity. This is the problem of content. It is directly linked to a second problem, which is that social accounts of language ignore the distinction between I-language and E-language, concentrating on E-language, which means that they basically are unable to correctly address the central problem of language acquisition. Finally, even supposing for the sake of argument that social accounts of language evolution are viable, the emphasis on "cooperation", "sharing", etc. seem misguided in at least two ways: first, they rest on a misunderstanding of the Gricean notion of cooperation; second, the universality of implicit communication (conversational implicatures and presuppositions), if anything, argues for a manipulative rather than a cooperative view of human communication.

The meeting place will be the Gabriel Oliver Room, -1 floor, Edifici Josep Carner, UB. 

BIB Journal Club

On Tuesday, April 30, at 16:30, BIB will have a journal club session. We will discuss work, presented by Gillian Ramchand and Peter Svenonius in GLOW 36, that derives the functional hierarchy aiming to reconcile mainstream Minimalist views on Universal Grammar with the fine-grained hierarchies that the cartographic enterprise proposes.

Feel free to spread the word and see you all in the Sala de Reunions, 5th floor, Edifici Josep Carner, UB.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

LaTeX course (4th session)


Thursday, April 18, 2013

Join BIB!

All BIB talks, journal club sessions, courses offered by BIB members and all other activities announced  here are open to the public. Everybody is welcome to attend them! If you would like to be informed about upcoming activities via email, please get in touch with us stating your interest and we will keep you posted.

Talk -- Ansgar Endress


On Thursday, April 25, at 16.00, Ansgar Endress (Universitat Pompeu Fabra) will give a talk in our group on "Computational recycling and the evolution of language".

Abstract: Language is a uniquely human trait but has to interface with a host of pre-existing abilities, a requirement that might have shaped certain properties of language. I will present two case studies of such pre-existing mechanisms: a sensitivity to positional memory for sequences and a sensitivity to identity relations. I show that these simple, evolutionarily ancient mechanisms shape certain universal linguistic structures, allow nonhuman animals to learn similar structures, and predict which cues humans can and cannot use to learn words from fluent speech. Further, I show that, by focusing on the limitations of these mechanisms, we can refine our hypotheses about the properties of specifically linguistic computations. The language faculty might thus have recycled certain pre-existing mechanisms for its own, linguistic, purposes; while the properties of these mechanisms seem to constrain structural properties of language, their limitations give some glimpses of what might be more specific to linguistic computation.

The meeting place will be the Sala de Graus, in the Historic Building of UB. The talk is open to the public so feel free to attend!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

BIB Journal Club

On Thursday, April 18, at 16:00, BIB will have a journal club session. We will discuss a paper by David Poeppel that addresses two challenges for a cognitive neuroscience of language and speech.

See you all in the Sala de Reunions, 5th floor, Edifici Josep Carner, UB.