Call for papers: EvoLang 10 in Vienna, Austria


Call deadline: September 13, 2013

The 10th International Conference on the Evolution of Language will be held on 14th-17th April 2014 in Vienna at the Department of English of Vienna University.

The 10th International Conference on the Evolution of Language (Vienna, April 14th-17th, 2014) invites substantive contributions relating to the evolution of human language. Submissions may be in any relevant discipline, including, but not limited to, anthropology, archeology, artificial life, biology, cognitive science, genetics, linguistics, modeling, paleontology, physiology, primatology, and psychology. Normal standards of academic excellence apply.

Submitted papers should aim to make clear their own substantive claim, relating this to relevant scientific literature, and briefly setting out the method by which the claim is substantiated, the nature of the relevant data, and/or the core of the theoretical argument concerned. Submissions may be theory-based, but empirical studies should not rest on preliminary results.

Submissions can be made (by Sept. 13th, 2013) both for podium presentations (20 minutes plus 10 minutes for discussion) and for poster presentations. They are limited to one first-authored podium presentation and one first-authored poster per person. There is no limit on second authored submissions. – When submitting, please indicate whether your submission is to be considered for inclusion as a talk, as a poster, or as either of the two.

For both podium and poster presentations, there are two possible types of submission: (a) Full papers, which can have a length of between 6 and 8 pages, and (b) Abstracts, which can be up to 2 pages long.

All accepted submissions will be published in a bound proceedings volume to appear before the start of the conference.

For detailed instructions on how to submit a paper or poster go to the submission section.

For further information, please visit the official homepage:

Feedback on the 19th International Congress of Linguists (ICL19) in Geneva

The International Congress of Linguists took place in Geneva from 21-27. July!

Because this conference was very big one, I can only tell you about things which I was interested in – I hope some aspects are also interesting for you!

One big event: Chomsky’s talk
Noam Chomsky was invited to give a talk.
You can watch a video here:
He also attended to the Origin of Language and Human Cognition session briefly – it was really funny to be with him in an auditorium. 😉

Plenary talk: Tecumseh Fitch
If you know his book “The Evolution of Language” (2010), the most part of his talk was involved in this book. At first, he emphasized the difference between homology (descended from common ancestor) and convergence/analogy (separate, parallel evolution) and talked about the evolution of the flexible vocal tract to produce speech in terms of homology. Further, he talked a little about the vocal learning which should have evolved in terms of convergent evolution. The second part and the main point of his talk was about syntax as related to complex pattern perception investigated within the artificial grammar learning paradigm (AGL) and concluded that almost all animals can’t process the context-free grammars (CFG). Here, he show visual pattern recognition task as promising because one can avoid working memory question involved strongly in tasks with auditory stimuli. Here, we can see his current working hypothesis regarding complex pattern recognition as domain-general. Interesting point was the claim that we should investigate ‘animal phonology’ instead of ‘animal syntax’. In the last part of his talk, he implied the origin of hierarchical processing in primate social cognition and the exaptation of this in the course of language evolution.
This last part was actually the most interesting one though he took little time for that. The origin of hierarchical processing in primate social cognition is maybe his current interest. That’s why he emphasizes in his musical papers the social aspects of music. This is really funny because Jackendoff (2011) also mentioned about the possible origin of the hierarchical structure in primate social structure recognition. Fitch didn’t mention anything about the possible origin of hierarchical processing in action as claimed by other authors. Anyway, it was a very interesting and funny talk. 😉

Session 2: Origin of language and human cognition
This session was highly interdisciplinary – there were presentations from biology, computer science, theoretical linguistics to musicology (of course, musicology was added by me!). 😉
The first interesting point was claimed by Andrea RAVIGNANI (biology) talking about an experiment with squirrel monkeys. He tested the monkey’s sensitivity to the ‘dependency’ structure defined different from linguistic ‘dependency’ with stimuli fitting to their perceptual systems (frequency between 1 kHz and 11 kHz): they were able to recognize the pattern of the strings generated by the rules abna.
How this kind of ‘dependency’ would relate to the linguistic ‘dependency’ was not clear, but for future research, one could test monkeys with similar stimuli to several variations of complexity. It would be interesting to test, whether they can recognize rhythmic patterning like long-shortn-long.
The second interesting talk was given by Jeffrey WATUMULL (computer science) about the functional architecture of language in terms of Turing machine. He claimed that merge/minimal search as a sole operation of the Turing machine and the look-up table contains patterns of E-languages. On the tape, the Turing machine writes representations like {x,y}, {x, {x,y}}, … which are interpreted by interface systems.
I asked him what he thinks about the relationship between language and music in terms of his functional architecture – he basically agrees with Ian Roberts and Katz & Pesetsky, claiming that interface systems are different.
Further, many interesting talks were following. Especially three of them were relating to each other and gave a new perspective in the language evolution research. Cedric BOECKX had a strong idea of ‘syntactic protolanguage’ in which he was arguing for the ‘syntax first’ type of language evolution. The main point was “lexicon depends on syntax”, that is, without syntax, no lexicon. He suggested to pay attention to the gap between anatomical and behavioral modern humans. Here, he claimed merge as a ‘precursor of modern fully developed grammar’.
The similar claim was made by Koji FUJITA. He also regarded merge as the most important thing to investigate the evolution of language. One very progressive claim was gesture as the origin of syntax and tool use as the precursor of merge. Here, he suggested the transition from action merge over domain-general merge to linguistic merge in the evolution of human cognition. His understanding of the evolution of interface systems was also very different from the classic notion of merge + interfaces = language.
After these two presentations, I talked about what the comparative approach on language and music would tell us about the evolution of cognitive systems and their ‘humaniqueness’. I think, my talk added to the former talks another perspective from music research. My claim on uniquely human domain-general core computation processing complex hierarchical structure which is shared in language, music and action was fitting to the in-between step of domain-general merge claimed by Fujita from which the other cognitive systems evolved in the course of evolution. So, if it’s true, language and music share domain-general merge as their origin, but differ in the evolution of interface systems and the domain-specific merge. Maybe, language and music share some origins in terms of S-M interface system, but they are completely different in terms of C-I interface systems. I have still problem with the term “syntax” if this sort of considering the evolution of language is regarded as ‘syntax first’, but we can say “Your theory of language evolution depends on your theory of language” (Jackendoff, 2010), “Your theory of the evolution of syntax depends on your theory of syntax”. Let’s see, how the future research is going on. 😉

Workshop 109: Innovations in the study of language acquisition and language impairment
The first interesting notion was made by Chiara CANTIANI. She tested children with Specific Language Impairment (SLI) and Developmental Dyslixia (DD) and found the delay in P600 and the existence of N400-like component in DD by grammaticality judgment task. She concluded that this N400-like component in DD shows a different strategy for morpho-syntactic processing in DD. To note that her interpretation of ERP components were based on Friederici (2002).
The second interesting talk was given by Heather VAN DER LELY. She emphasized the importance of the connection between cortical (BA 44 and BA 45) and subcortical area (Basal ganglia, especially striatum) in the processing of complex syntax (clausal level hierarchy).
This workshop was very nice to get an overview over the current state of art in the empirical approaches relating the theme. For example, what I really learned was that the name of the impairment tells us very little about the nature of diseases: some subjects with Dyslexia have difficulties in phonology, some in morpho-syntax, and the others both. Some subjects have both SLI and DD or only one of them – they have different problems.

Session 7: Psycholinguistics
One interesting talk was given by Hélène DELAGE about the relation between working memory and complex syntax in SLI. She suggested the syntactic complexity defined by the embedding and the  depth of embedding and claimed that working memory limitation in SLI relates to the limitation in processing complexity in syntax. The methodologically, she differentiated two tasks, simple-span task and complex-span task, in terms of the working memory model of Baddeley (1986) and the findings in Barrouillet & Camos (2001, 2007) and assumed that “1) the phonological loop using three ‘simple span’ tasks (forward digit span, repetition of words and non-words) and 2) verbal working memory (associating the phonological loop and the central administrator) using three ‘complex span’ tasks (backward digit span, counting span and running span)”.
Actually, I didn’t understand why the counting task relates to the complex-span task because I’m not familiar with that… If someone can tell me why, I would be very happy. Otherwise, I will also read the papers… 😉
Another interesting talk was given by Ulrich FRAUENFELDER about the modularity and domain-specificity in language and cognition. He emphasized domain-specificity as more important than the encapsulation and claimed that one should investigate the relationship between the faculty of language and other faculties (i.e. music) or other cognitive components (i.e. working memory).
Although this work was very interesting and will give a nice framework for the future research, I had feeling that he wanted to see shared aspects of language and music on the low, perceptual level, and not on the high, cognitive level because he placed the domain-specificity in ‘knowledge modules’ and shared sensory processing in ‘processing modules’. Actually, I couldn’t understand how special ‘knowledge modules’ can be processed by shared ‘processing modules’. I think, concerning this point, further investigation is needed.
I also heard a funny experiment about learning sign language in social context (in a class room) vs. with DVD and the activation of Broca’s area – the former showed the significant activation in the Broca’s area in exposed later to the sign languages, but the latter not. Actually, I don’t know whether this is really true, but it was really funny. :)

So, this is a ‘short summary’ of my experience of the conference!!!
If you have some comments, I would be very happy. :)
The conference was very nice, but it was really hot in Geneva!