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!

Feedback on Language, Music and Cognition in Cologne

The international workshop Language, Music and Cognition took place from September 27th to 29th 2012 hosted by the University of Cologne, Germany. This three-day-workshop consisted of three thematic sessions (one thematic session per day) which interacted in discussions all over the workshop: 1st day – syntax and semantics, 2nd day – language and music, and 3rd day – prosody, sign language, and gesture.

Topics of the presentations:

Syntax and semantics:

  • Petra Schumacher (University of Mainz / University of Cologne):
    Adjusting meaning in real-time
  • Steven Frisson (University of Birmingham):
    Online semantic interpretation during reading
  • Andrea E. Martin (University of Edinburgh):
    Cue-based retrieval interference during sentence comprehension: ERP evidence from ellipsis
  • Ina Bornkessel-Schlesewsky / Matthias Schlesewsky (University of Marburg, University of Mainz):
    Dorsal and ventral streams in language: Puzzles and possible solutions
  • Mante S. Nieuwland (University of Edinburgh):
    ERP evidence for animacy processing asymmetries during Spanish sentence comprehension
  • Jutta Mueller (Max-Planck-Institut, Leipzig):
    First steps towards language: Auditory artificial grammar learning across development
  • Gert Westermann, (Lancaster University):
    Experience-dependent brain development as a key to understanding the systematicity of linguistic representations

Language and music:

  • Barbara Tillmann (Lyon Neuroscience Research Center CRNL):
    Music and language structure processing: What is shared?
  • Evelina Fedorenko (Massachusetts Institute of Technology):
    Syntactic processing in language and music: Existence of overlapping circuits does not imply lack of specialized ones
  • Yun Nan (Beijing Normal University):
    Cross-domain pitch processing in music and Mandarin: perceptual and post-perceptual basis
  • Kazuo Okanoya (Riken Lab / University of Tokyo):
    Segmentation in Language and Music: Statistical and Emotional Cues
  • Julie Chobert (Laboratoire de Neurosciences Cognitives, Marseille):
    Influence of musical training on the preattentive processing of syllables in normal-reading children and children with dyslexia
  • Daniela Sammler (Max-Planck-Institut, Leipzig):
    Neuroanatomical overlap of syntax in music and language
  • Thomas Bever (University of Arizona, Tuscon):
    There are at least two “normal” neurological organizations for language and music
Prosody, sign language, and gesture:
  • Richard Wiese (University of Marburg):
    Formal representations of rhythm in speech and music
  • Mara E. Breen (Mt. Holyoke College, Massachusetts):
    Empirical investigations of the role of implicit prosody in sentence processing
  • Martha Tyrone (Haskins Lab, Long Island University – Brooklyn):
    Prosody and Limb Movement in American Sign Language
  • Markus Steinbach (University of Göttingen):
    When gestures become signs – The integration of gestures into sign languages
  • Ulrike Domahs (University of Marburg):
    Language specific processing of word prosody

In addition to these presentations, there was a poster session on the second day.

In almost all presentations, it was focused on empirical studies and there were less theoretical considerations. The first and second sessions (partly also the third session), though, shared fruitful theoretical discussions about “syntax” – what is it? It seems to be difficult to get a general consensus about this concept also in linguistic studies in which syntax plays a very important role. So, general discussion about this concept is needed for the future development in comparative research on language and music. Concerning musical ‘syntax’, it deals mainly with harmonic syntax – what’s about rhythm?

This workshop showed the importance of cross disciplinary discussions – having a wide view and several perspectives.

For details, please visit the workshop homepage!

Feedback on Cognitive Modules and Interfaces in Trieste

The international workshop “Cognitive Modules and Interfaces” took place from September 18th to 19th 2012. This workshop was held hosted by SISSA in Trieste after a lecture of Noam Chomsky who got the honorary doctorate degree from the Institute. The title of his lecture was “The minimalist program and language acquisition”.

This workshop provided a very wide range of thematic fields – language acquisition, music, mathematics, reasoning, animal communication, pragmatics and social cognition – which related to each other in terms of modular and/or domain-general processing. Moreover, cognitive neuroscience was one of the main approaches.

Keynote speakers and their topics:

LUCA BONATTI // ICREA and Pompeu Fabra Uni. Barcelona – Spain
At the origin of human rationality: infants’ reasoning about future events

STANISLAS DEHAENE // Collège de France and Neurospin, Saclay – France
From word to sentence: in search of the brain mechanisms for constituent structure

LUCIANO FADIGA // University of Ferrara and Italian Institute of Technology – Italy
On the sensorimotor grounding of speech and language

LILA GLEITMAN // University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia – USA
How to start at the beginning: the machinery of observational word learning

ISABELLE PERETZ // BRAMS/CRBLM University of Montreal – Canada
Music, language and modularity framed in action

CONSTANCE SCHARFF // Freie Universität Berlin – Germany
Thinking about language evolution at the zoo: insights from flies, birds, and bats

DAN SPERBER // CEU, Budapest – Hungary
Domain-general reasoning in a modular mind

Though empirical research approaches were dominant, theoretical issues were also discussed. Some ideas connecting current empirical researches to evolutionary research discourse opened a futher dimension, which made the discussions in this workshop more fruitful.

To visit official site of the workshop, click here!

EvoLang9: Plenary Videos

Videos of (most of) the plenary lectures from the conference are now available to view online at the following address:

Plenary lectures of EvoLang9 were given by the following researchers:

  • Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini
    Three Models (and a Half) for the Description of Language Evolution
  • Minoru Asada
    Towards Language Acquisition by Cognitive Developmental Robotics
  • Cedric Boeckx
    Homo Combinans
  • Simon Kirby
    Why Language Has Structure: New Evidence from Studying Cultural Evolution in the Lab and What It Means for Biological Evolution
  • Jenny Saffran
    Out of the Brains of Babes: Domain-general Learning Mechanisms and Domain-specific Systems
  • Simon Fisher
    Molecular Windows into Speech and Language
  • Russell Gray
    The Evolution of Language Without Miracles
  • Rafael Núñez
    The Irreducible Semantic Communicative Drive
  • Tetsuro Matsuzawa
    Outgroup: The Study of Chimpanzees to Know the Human Mind
  • Tom Griffiths
    Neutral Models for Language Evolution
  • Terrence Deacon
    Neither Nature nor Nurture: Coevolution, Devolution, and Universality of Language

Enjoy yourself with the videos! Special thanks to the EvoLang9 organization committee for their very nice work!

Feedback on EvoLang9 in Kyoto

The international Conference EvoLang9
took place from 13. to 16. March 2012. This conference is held
every two years and was this time in Kyoto, Japan. The main session
included eleven lectures of plenary speakers, five talks of invited
speakers, several talks and poster presentations of the conference
participants. In adittion to this main session, there was five
workshops on the first day. EvoLang9 provided
a very wide view of language evolution by considering topics from
variable research areas of cognitive science. Mainly discussed
topics were:

  • Biological evolution vs. Cultural
  • Different models on language
    evolution: FLN vs. Protolanguages
  • Neuroscientific evidences on language
  • Tool use and language
  • Comparative research: species
    (human, primate and bird) and domains (language, music and visual
  • Language changes

Discussions were carried both from theoretical and
empirical perspectives, so that they had highly interdisciplinary
characters. In this conference, one noticed that the dialogue
between several approaches would be a key development of the
current research on language evolution. Next EvoLang10 will be held
in 2014 in Vienna. Official site of EvoLang conferences: <div
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EvoLang conferences”
Homepage of EvoLang9: Here you can get detailed information about
the previous conference!