LING7013 Language Emergence and Language Change

Prof. Christophe Coupé

MA Elective course. Sem 2
Monday, 9:30 am – 12:20 pm
Venue: CPD-2.25, Centennial Campus

Course Description

How, when and why did the faculty of language emerge and evolve in our ancestors? How is it connected to the development of other cognitive abilities, of new behaviors and social interactions? These issues fuel today’s scientific investigations, but the question of how we came to communicate the way we do today has puzzled scholars for millennia, as evident from the legacy of ancient Greek and Chinese philosophers.

In this course, we will paint a global picture of language evolution, surveying theories and data from disciplines such as paleoanthropology, evolutionary theory, ethology, comparative psychology and computer modelling. We will outline the succession through time of various schools of thought, before focusing on what can be inferred today of the evolution of language despite the absence of “language fossils”. Besides the more traditional paleoanthropological inquiries, we will insist on the relevance of recent approaches such as multi-agents simulations and experimental semiotics to account for the emergence of fundamental properties of language. We will also reconsider language in the more general framework of animal communication, whether in the wild or in the lab, and see how it can help to bridge the gap between us and our close relatives. The assumptions and limited of the various theories will be thoroughly discussed, as they are especially important in such a speculative field.

To complement the lectures, we will experiment in class with different approaches: computer models of language evolution, games from the field of experimental semiotics, or yet collective analyses of prehistoric cultural behaviors. At the end of the course, you will have a deeper understanding of the roots of our communication system, of its place in the history of Humankind, and ultimately of what it means to be human.

Course syllabus
This course covers the field of evolutionary linguistics, i.e. how language developed in the past and how languages evolve through time. To this end, it surveys a number of complementary perspectives and disciplines which address the topics of language emergence and language change: cognitive paleoanthropology, comparative psychology, historical linguistics, sociolinguistics, computational linguistics or yet experimental semiotics. Students will overall build a better understanding of language as a cognitive and social device, and investigate evolutionary processes at different time scales, from the remote roots of the faculty of language to the birth of modern languages and contemporary mechanisms of language change.

100% coursework.

Course Timeslots (1)