Linguistics 320
The Origin and Evolution of Human Language
Prof. Suzanne Kemmer
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Course Schedule

Books, Websites, and other Sources

Tentative Schedule of Topics
With Readings

Origin and Evolution of Human Languages, Spring 2016

The readings posted here are tentative and will be announced in advance in each week. Fuller references are given in Books, Websites and Other Sources.

WkDate Topic Readings and Assignments
1 Jan 11 Introduction. Human language and human evolution. Big Picture: Evolution of pre-human species through modern cultural developments: general timeline. Overview of topics in the course. (Look at it in more detail after class. We will use this timeline as reference throughout the course and will look at it in more detail in the section on hominid evolution.) Questions on Origin and Evolution of Language. Timeline of Events in Pre-human and Human Evolution.
Jan 13 Questions on Origin of Language, evolution of language; the study of these questions in Linguistics and other fields. The linguists' perspective and its questions. What is a language system? What is a human language? Some similarities and contrasts with other communication systems of humans and other animals. Kinds of animal communication. Vervet monkey calls. Design Features of Language Hockett 1960

Jan 15More specific look at design features, and some structural aspects of language. Hockett 1960 cont.

2 Jan 18Martin Luther King Day
Jan 20 Organization of Group Presentation 1 on Animal Communication. The most distinctive design features for human language. Transitioning to one crucial capacity of humans: Shared attention. The social-cognitive revolution in 9-12 month old human children. End Hockett 1960. begin Tomasello 2002, chapter from Evolution of Language (in Canvas Files)
Jan 22 What does the child's developmental leap in social cognition tell us about the capacities underlying human language? Children's neural and cognitive development and language. Comparisons with animals. Lexical symbols vs. grammar - We will not look much at grammar but it might be relevant to later presentations or written work. (We will get back to grammar later, as many scholars have taken the evolution of grammar as a crucial issue). Tomasello 2002, cont.
3 Jan 25 Children's brains and capacities cont. Evolution of Language and Brain Part I. Did language development precede brain development in humans? Did language and brain development go hand in hand? (For this the term 'coevolution' is often used; but this properly refers to structures and associated functions - the general evolutionary feedback loop-- rather than two functions.) What exactly happened in the brain that relates to language? Topics relevant to the argument: Some physical/functional points of comparison between humans and close primate relatives: Vocal tract; hands, feet; gait. Behavioral comparisons. Tomasello, end. Start reading Lieberman and McCarthy.
Jan 27 Presentation 1 on Animal Communication systems. (3 groups).
Jan 29Presentatation 1 on Animal Communication systems (2 groups).
4 Feb 1 The evolution of vocal speech. Lieberman and McCarthy. Lamb powerpont Part II. Reviewing relevant points of Lieberman and McCarthy.
Feb 3 Evolution of language and its relation to evolution of the human brain, continued.Argument for development of brain first, then various functions of language, with vocal speech probably developing last. Explanation of explosion of size of cortex. What evidence can you find? More on the FoxP2 gene and misunderstanding of it as a, or the "language gene". Tools and Causality. Tool use in animals. What animals use tools? What are "tools"? Are these phenomena tool use: producing certain chemicals to ward off pests (see Crafty plants) nest-building (birds, squirrels, chimpanzees); apparent play behavior by (especially) young animals with objects (domestic cats and dogs; wild canids and felines?); using stones to break open hard sea shells (otters); snowboarding down roofs on plastic lids (crows); dropping hard food onto hard surfaces to break it open (gulls, crows); 'using traffic' to crack nuts (crows); using sponges to uncover prey on sea floor (dolphins); what else? Nowadays it is agreed that chimps, gorillas, and monkeys use tools in the wild, but this was not known or accepted until Jane Goodall's work began to be recognized (1980s; still rejected by many until 2000s). Tomasello and Call 1997. Crow videos (see Canvas folder on "Other interesting animal behavior"); dolphin links. Students, please supply more links and I will put them in the Files. Primate timeline extracted by SK from information in Tomasello and Call 1997.
Feb 5 Points of comparison within primates: brain; cortical structures. Some aspects of primate cognition. Mirror neuron system: monkey, human. Lamb powerpoint Part I.
5Feb 8 Comparative primate brain cont. Summary of comparison of non-human primate cognition and human cognition. The evolutionary gulf our ancestors had to bridge.
Feb 10 Hominid species and hominid evolution, Overview. Family tree turns into "family bush". Monogenesis vs. polygenesis of human origins. Australopithecines. Bipedalism. Documentary "A Human Climate": Hominin Sites in Eastern Africa. Donald Johanson. Hominids webpages on Sources.
Feb 12 Hominid species cont. Innovations in morphology in various hominids. Implications for communicative behavior. More claims and controversies. Recent developments. Hominids pages. Links.
<6 Feb 15 Evidentiary gaps in Hominid archeology. Overview of stone tools. Read summaries by Kemmer: a) Dimensions of Hominid evolution; b) Habilis and Erectus. Study and compare timelines linked on Sources.
Feb 17Fossil remains. Implications for communication. Timeline summarizing relation of events, fossils, date ranges. Davidson 2002.
Feb 19 Archaic sapiens. Evidence of 'representation' (visual; other artifacts). The blocks of ochre. Signs of representation and cognitive pattern? Or accidental or purely functional patterning with no aesthetic/representational processing? Cognitive issues. Uniformitarian hypothesis of human cognition in modern sapiens. Explore sapiens sites.
7Feb 22Uniformitarianism cont. Mark Turner hypotheses. The upper paleolithic. A flowering of technology and culture? Turner
Feb 24 Image Schemas; and Conceptual Blending. Could the evolution of language be very very late in our species?
Feb 26
8 Feb 29-Mar 4 Spring break
9 Mar 7
Mar 9
Mar 11
10 Mar 14
Mar 16 Deacon (2003)
Mar 18
11 Mar 21
11 Mar 23
11 Mar 25
April 1 Spring recess
Apr 4 Deacon cont. The symbolic link in humans. Background and introduction to Deacon's views on language evolution. Computer-based symbolic systems vs. true semiotic-based systems. Indexicality. Functional complexity of the semiotic function of symbols. Cutting through the nativism debate. Functional semiotic constraints as explanation for observed properties of human language systems, rather than nativism. Pinker and Jackendoff vs. Chomsky et al.
Apr 6 Claims and controversies 1: Corballis' theory of the gestural origin of language. Language and handedness. (Corballis 2003 From Hand to Mouth. Could there have been a signed language that preceded spoken language?
Apr 8 Corballis' hypothesis cont. Corballis interview on handedness and brain asymmetry.
Apr 11 McNeill results on the relation of gesture and language; and how the latter bear on the Corballis' theory. Remaining issues on gesture and language and potential evolutionary connection. McNeill article
Apr 13 Mitochondrial DNA. Genetic evidence for hypotheses of human diaspora. The spread of Homo Sapiens Sapiens Sykes: The Seven Daughters of Eve, pp. 17-49, 50-85
Apr 15 Cheddar Man speaks. The First Europeans; the Last of the Neanderthals; Hunters and Farmers; We are Not Amused (a scientific controversy and resolution). Sykes 139-211; 212-230. New links.
Apr 18 Presentations
Apr 20 Presentations
Apr 22 Some conclusions on Evolution of Human Language. All powerpoints for all presentations to be uploaded in final form.

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