Biolinguistics Initiative Barcelona

Biolinguistics Initiative Barcelona: October 2013

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Upcoming MA Course - Boeckx, Hinzen, TBA

Course Description: Interdisciplinary applications of linguistic concepts (2013/2014)

This course will be divided into three parts or 'modules', taught by three different instructors (Cedric Boeckx, Wolfram Hinzen, and a third one TBA). The language of instruction for all parts will be English.

Cedric Boeckx (Part I of the course)

The goal of this Part of the course is to familiarize students with the challenges of interdisciplinary, using 'biolinguistics' (in a broad sense of the term) as an example of a field where these challenges arise.

This part of the course will be divided into 5 sessions (2-hour each):
  1. A bit of history of biolinguistics, and why the lack of progress can be attributed to the failure to grasp the depth of interdisciplinary challenges. Key reading: "The Chomsky-Piaget debate" (M. Piattelli-Palmarini, ed. 1980. Language and Learning. Harvard UP.)
  2. The biological nature of linguists' "Universal Grammar" (key reading: C. Boeckx "What Principles and Parameters got wrong", online at Lingbuzz)
  3. The biological nature of linguists' "Universal Grammar", Part II: how big data can inform theory (key reading: C. Boeckx and E. Leivada "Entangled parameters", PLoS One, 2013).
  4. The comparative method: why we need a comparative Biolinguistics (key reading: F. de Waal and P. Ferrari, "Towards a bottom-up perspective on animal and human cognition", Trends in Cog. Sci. 2010).
  5. The mapping problem: Adjusting the jargons (and ontologies) across fields (key reading: D. Poeppel "The maps problem and the mapping problem" Cognitive Neuropsychology, 2012.)
Students will be introduced to these challenges at various levels: conceptual, empirical, and technical. In addition to philosophical reflections, they will be taught (by means of specific examples) how to handle "big data" (from linguistics or biology).

The assignment for this part of the course (for students who choose to be evaluated for this part) will be a 5-page essay (content to be agreed upon after discussing it in person with the instructor).

Suggested days and times for this part of the course:

October 28 & November 4, 11, 18 & 25, Mon. 15:00-17:00; Room 103A (l'Edifici Josep Carner, Fac de Filologia, UB)

Wolfram Hinzen (Part II of the course)

The goal of this second part is to present the study of grammar in its interface with both philosophy and psychology, and in particular the study of cognitive disorders. The goals are:
  1. To understand how the organization of grammar impacts on the organization of meaning.
  2. To apply linguistic theory to the study of cognitive disorders, integrating (psycho- and neuro-) linguistics and (neuro-) psychiatry.
  3. Connect foundational issues in linguistic theory with core topics in philosophy, such as the structure and content of thought
The organization of this part follows that of part I: 5 sessions, 2-hour each, three in December 2013, 2 in January 2014.

First we begin by developing a model of what lexical and grammatical organization implies for the organization of meaning. We then review comparative data that show how cognitive phenotypes and linguistic phenotypes can or cannot co-vary. Finally, we consider how linguistic considerations bear on traditional core topics of philosophy, such as truth and human nature.

The assignment for this part of the course will also be a 5-page essay, based on a selection of sample questions handed out in the beginning of the course, or else an alternative choice of topic, to be discussed with the instructor.

Suggested days and times for this part of the course:

December: 2, 9 & 16 & January 8 & 15: Mon. 15:00-17:00; Room: 103A. l'Edifici Josep Carner, Fac de Filologia, UB


Hinzen, W. and M. Sheehan 2013. The philosophy of Universal Grammar. Oxford University Press.

Oh, T., R. McCarthy and P. McKenna 2005. Schizophrenic speech. Cambridge University Press.

Part III of the course (more details TBA)

Computational Linguistics

The goal of the Computational Linguistics Part of the course is to familiarize students with resources and tools to carry on experimental work with linguistic data.
  1. Linguistic resources: Corpora and lexicons.
  2. Linguistic tools: morphological analysers, parsers, chunkers.
  3. Tools and algorithms for data analysis and predictive modelling.
Students who choose to be evaluated for this part will have to propose a research and write a paper using these resources and tools.

Suggested days and times for this part of the course:

December 2013 or January 2014.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Publication News

Two papers by BIB members have just been published:

Happy readings!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Comparative Biolinguistics: An exploratory workshop

BIB is delighted to announce that an exploratory workshop on Comparative Biolinguistics, organized by Cedric Boeckx, will take place at the end of November in Barcelona. Here is the program. There won't be any registration fee, and everyone is welcome to attend.

Stay tuned for further details.


November 28

  • Antonio Benítez Burraco (Universidad de Huelva): Comparative biolinguistics: Why we need a new research program
  • Cedric Boeckx (ICREA, Universitat de Barcelona): Goals of the workshop
  • Aritz Irurtzun (CNRS-IKER): Prosodic Constraints in Linguistic Theories
  • Maia Duguine (University of the Basque Country): On the Nature of the Pro-Drop Parameter
  • Lluis Barceló i Coblijn (Universidad de Murcia): Hominins through communication and language
  • Tobias Scheer (Université de Nice): The status and position of phonology in the biolinguistic landscape
  • Rie Asano (Institute of Musicology, University of Cologne): Biolinguistics and Biomusicology: The Quest for Uniqueness and Modularity of the Human Mind
  • Uwe Seifert (Institute of Musicology, University of Cologne): Cognitive Musicology – Towards an Evolutionary Framework for Comparative Research on the Functional Architecture of the Musical Mind

Conference dinner

November 29
  • Kleanthes K. Grohmann1 & Maria Kambanaros2, Elena Theodorou1 & Elena Papadopoulou1 (1University of Cyprus, 2Cyprus University of Technology): Specifying the Specificity of Specific Language Impairment
  • Christiana Christodoulou & Kleanthes K. Grohmann (University of Cyprus): Reflections on the Grammar of Down Syndrome
  • Maria Kambanaros1 & Kleanthes K. Grohmann2 (1Cyprus University of Technology, 2University of Cyprus): Verb–Noun Dissociations across Impaired Populations
  • Maria Kambanaros (Cyprus University of Technology): Instrumentality and the Neurobiological Underpinnings of Verb Processing
  • Valantis Fyndanis (University of Athens, University of Potsdam, Technological Educational Institute of Patras): Morphosyntactic production in agrammatic aphasia and Alzheimer's disease: Evidence from Greek
  • Evelina Leivada (Universitat de Barcelona): The limits of variation across languages and pathologies
  • Roundtable discussion: Where to go from here?

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Practice Talk

On Monday 21, Pedro Tiago Martins and Evelina Leivada will give a talk related to the Tromsø presentation mentioned in the last post. This will take place at the Josep Carner building (Sala de Professors) at 4pm.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

BIB news

At the end of this month, BIB members Cedric Boeckx, Pedro Tiago Martins and Evelina Leivada will go past the arctic circle for the CASTL conference Features in Phonology, Morphology, Syntax and Semantics: What are they? in Tromsø, where they will give a talk titled "Putting an End to Featuritis".

BIB news

BIB member Evelina Leivada was awarded the Best Poster Prize at the "Language Sciences in the 21st Century: The interdisciplinary challenge" conference for her work (joint with Cedric Boeckx) "Universals and Universal Grammar: A view from variation", which was presented as part of the specialized session "Diversity and Universals."


At the same event, which took place at the University of Cambridge just last week, five more posters were presented by BIB members:

  • Boeckx, C. Characterizing the language-ready brain
  • Boeckx, C.; Rosselló, J.; Martínez-Álvarez, A.; Martins, P. T.; Leivada, E. The role of the environment in the evolution of the language faculty
  • Benítez-Burraco, A.; Boeckx, C.; Leivada, E. What's universal about Universal Grammar? Deeper layers of variation
  • Martins, P. T. Enhanced Motor Abilities as Speech Exaptations
  • Martins, P. T. & Leivada, E. An Evolutionary Perspective on Language and Complexity