The Grup de Biolingüística (GB) organized
its inaugural conference with a series of lectures of
wide scope. Some outstanding scholars will be participating
in this conference. Below, you will find links to the
abstracts of every speaker (view
program -pdf-): :
- Disquisitions on form and sense
(V. Acedo i J. Fortuny)
- Development and Computational Complexity.
Two key issues for understanding the origins of language?
- The sudden jump to human language.
(R. Ferrer i Cancho)
- Another linguistics is possible.
- Languages and species: limits and
scope of a venerable comparison. (J.L. Mendívil
- Syntax: The core cognitive system
of the faculty of human language (J. Rosselló)
- Brain, tools, migration and words.
On the origins of language (J. Tusón)
- What could say genes of language?
(A. Noy i Freixa)
- The evolution of the language virus
Universitat de Barcelona
Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes, 585 - Barcelona
Building Josep Carner - Classroom 1.1
July 1st, 2004: from9 h. to 20 h.
July 2nd, 2004: from 9.30 h. to 14 h.
VÍCTOR ACEDO I
JORDI FORTUNY (Department of General Linguistic.University
Disquisitions on form and sense
Our aim is to reflect on the question why language
should have certain properties that it seems to have.
We will focus on syntax, understood as a central component
which deals with the pairing of form and sense, or rather,
as a Computational Mechanism capable of creating a structure
which feeds the Articulatory-Perceptive System (‘form’)
and the Conceptual-Intentional System (‘sense’).
In particular, we will focus on the following properties:
(i) part of the structure necessary for the Conceptual-Intentional
System doesn’t have any physical correlate
(ii) part of the perceptible phenomena are irrelevant
for the Conceptual-Intentional System
It seems reasonable to think that, if we know the restrictions
imposed on syntax by each system, we will be able to
give a principled explanation of the mismatch expressed
in (i) and (ii), which would be a small step toward
understanding syntax (or the computational component)
as a mechanism optimally satisfying the divergent needs
of the aforementioned two systems.
As to (i), we will claim that the representation feeding
the Conceptual-Intentional System must contain more
categories than are overt; for example, a sentence as
(a) Peter is reading a book can be semantically equivalent
to the next sentences: (b) Peter is reading a book at
this moment and (c) Peter is reading a book during this
month. This requires from us considering the following
possibilities: either the Conceptual-Intentional System
has a mechanism able to read off the same interpretation
both from the absence of structure in (a) and the presence
of structure in (b) and (c), or the stucture is always
present, but not always filled with morphophonological
material. We will observe as well that syntax doesn’t
generate certain combinations which are allowed by the
Conceptual-Intentional System. If this last claim were
true, we would have found syntactic properties unable
to be reduced to the needs imposed by the relevant system
(Conpectual-Intentional). We will analyse several alternatives
concerning this fact.
With regard to the property expressed in (ii), it seems
to be an imperfection of the Computational Mechanism,
provided that the forms it refers to are not required
for semantic innterpretation. Thus, among other instances,
agreement affixes on the verb or on the adjective, structural
case morphology on the noun, or certain positions occupied
by clitics don’t seem, at first glance, to be
forms interpretable by the Conceptual-Intentional System.
This property of the existence of “meaningless
forms”, however, is not an imperfection anymore
if it happens to satisfy the requirements imposed by
the Articulatory-Perceptive System.
SERGIO BALARI (Department
of Catalan Philology, Universitat Autònoma of
Development and Computational Complexity. Two key issues
for understanding the origins of language?
"The human mind differs from the mind of animals
only by degree but not in kind." Charles Darwin,
If I were to summarise Chomsky's current stance with
respect to the problem of the origins of language, I
would highlight the following points:
1.- The primary force in the evolution of language
may not have been natural selection. 2.- Language may
have emerged as the side effect of some unrelated evolutionary
event. 3.- It may be the case that physical and/or developmental
constraints have been responsible of its emergence.
4.- The distinctive feature of human language, which
sets it apart from other animal cognitive capacieties,
is the property of recursion.
In this paper I would like to suggest that we accept
1-3 and that we explore some of their consequences for
a general theory of the human linguistic faculties.
As I expect to show, one important conclusion is that,
under these assumptions, no strong hypothesis about
the richness of our genetic linguistic endowment is
necessary to explain human linguistic capacities.
In addition to that, I will qualify assumption 4 above
in the sense that the language faculty may be characterised
(minimally) as possessing two main basic properties,
namely structure dependence and recursion.
From here on, my strategy will be to seek whether the
rudiments of both properties may have already been present
in some common ancestor of great apes and humans. I
will turn then to our closer relatives, chimpanzees
and bonobos, in order to individuate some cognitive
capacity that may require (or may contain the seed of)
structure dependence and recursion.
My hypothesis will be, then, that the ability to analyse
complex visual scenes on the basis of a system of potentially
complex cognitive categories may have been co-opted
for the processing of auditory stimuli on the basis
of the same collection of cognitive categories and thus
giving rise to the core of the contemporary human language
Moreover, I would like to propose that these features
may have been recruited for the emergence of human linguistic
capacities as a side-effect of a number changes in the
developmental rate and timing of the human nervous system.
In this sense, humans may be characterised as overdeveloped
or peramorphic apes.
This evolutionary event may be conceptualised as instantaneous
or, more plausibly, as a gradual process through which
the mechanisms that are responsible of the emergence
of our linguistic capacities become fixed by an evolutionary
process known as the Baldwin Effect.
As an alternative, and perhaps complementary, view,
I would like to suggest that, with these elements in
place, the gradual delay in developmental offset could
have permitted hominid infants to progressively introduce
innovative elements into the system, whose complexity
would have increased as it was transmitted from generation
to generation in a process akin to what some biologists
have termed 'Gene-Culture Coevolution' or 'Niche Construction'.
This process could have been responsible of the gradual
emergence of complex grammatical systems from a protolanguage
'built' over the basis of the faculty of language and
through the principles of grammaticalisation.
Thus, once the laws of genetic inheritance transformed
our children into language creators, these laws lost
most power over the system, and the laws of cultural
change took over.
RAMON FERRER (Università
degli Studi di Roma, la Sapienza)
The sudden jump to human language.
The origins of human language has been the topic of
many speculations. Probably, the most important one
has been the type of process that leaded to human language.
In spite of the recent wave of works emphasizing the
ability of biological evolution for bulding essential
components of the human language faculty, different
questions remain unanswered.
Overcoming the weak points of Darwinian approaches,
here we put forward a hypothesis for the sudden emergence
of two essential traits of human language: syntax and
symbolic reference. No other explanation combines the
two traits at the same time.
(Department of General Linguistics. University of Barcelona)
Another linguistics is possible
The initial thesis of this communication is that linguistics
is a part of the study of the human being (i.e. anthropology)
insofar as language is one of the most (if not the most)
characteristic endowments of the mankind. This statement,
however, will have to be clarified. Linguistics has
different spaces of study strongly related to other
sciences. Roughly, the study of language could be methodologically
split in two big areas: (1) the study of the faculty
of language as a distinctive biological device of the
human species, and (2) the study of particular languages
and their social and cultural functioning. (Either studies
having a structural and a historical or evolutionary
dimension). Thus, (1), the so-called biolinguistics,
will be part of the discipline which studies the human
being from a biological point of view (namely, physical
anthropology), while (2), what I will call here sociolinguistics,
will belong to the cultural study of man (cultural anthropology).
This split, only methodological, is the norm in the
natural sciences, and has given excellent results throughout
the last four centuries. Therefore, there is no place
for conflicts between both kinds of linguistics, as
they don’t exist in anthropology, because they
simply are different (but complementary) dimensions
of language. To sum up, in this communication I want
to ask the end of the linguistic wars and thus I will
defend that another linguistics is possible.
MENDÍVIL GIRÓ (Department of general and
Spanish Linguistics. University of Zaragoza)
Languages and species: limits and scope of a venerable
Comparisons between the evolution of languages and
that of natural species is as much an old one as the
evolutionary theory is, for the same Darwin was in charge
of signaling that 'curious paralelism”. We will
deal with the comparison taking the most recent theories
of linguistic change and the last advances in genetics
as a departure point. This way, we will try to spell
out to what extent we could state that this analogy
could be fruitful for a better understanding of the
JOANA ROSSELLÓ (Department
of General Linguistics. University of Barcelona)
Syntax: The core cognitive system of the faculty of
Combining two different points of view, one coming
from the comparison with other (non) human animal capacities
and the other one coming from syntactic theory, I will
try to construct a relatively new argument supporting
the title above. The argument can be summarized as follows:
The hierarchical recursion that characterizes the human
language is a combined feature that is present in other
human capacities, such as music for instance, whereas
it is absent from the rest of animal communication systems
(trained apes included). If we add to both these facts
the lack of semanticity of music and the quasi-propositional
character of the systems learned by apes, a conclusion
emerges: the linguistic hierarchical recursion does
not need to be viewed as originating in the Semantic
Component (SC) related to the Conceptual-Intentional
(C-I) System and, therefore —given that hierarchical
recursion is absent from the Phonological Component
(PC), as is well known—, it can be better understood
as the mark of syntax exclusively. If this account is
accurate, as it seems, we obtain a quasi-empirical argument
in favor of the view that the syntactic or computational
system (CS) is the only one that is generative, SC and
PC being interpretive systems.
Such a view of CS is neutral regarding its nature as
a competence or performance system. In the second part
of the talk, however, I will argue that CS is not a
mere processing (performance) system but, on the contrary,
a cognitive system. I would like to suggest that given
the good and significant predictions obtainable from
the Extension Condition of CS — and unobtainable
in other non derivational frameworks, let’s say
in passing—, a crucially bottom-up condition,
one is compelled to assume that CS is not a processing
system. Indeed, such a system has to work necessarily
on-line (sequentially) and not bottom-up.
JESÚS TUSON. (Department
of General Linguistics. University of Barcelona)
Brain, tools, migration and words. On the origins of
After almost one and a half century of controversies,
purely speculative on the origins of language, recent
paleoanthropological research, along with the advances
in linguistics, have put the bases which allow us to
figure out from a different view the initial conditions
of our more distinctive faculty. This lecture focuses
on the problem of the language origins in parallel with
the evolution of brain, tools and other factors present
in the natural and cultural endowment of the Homo
AGNES NOY I FREIXA (Group
of Molecular Modeling and Bioinformatics. Barcelona
Science Park. University of Barcelona)
What could say genes of language?
Problems in acquiring speech and language disorders
have long been hidden of any kind of scientific explanation.
Lately, these issues, related to the genetic basis,
probably multifactorial, have begun to be analyzed and
have lead to the identification of four cromosomical
regions which could contain gens involved in the most
common speech disorders. Besides, it has been characterized
the gene called FOXP2, responsible for a rare monogenetic
inherited alteration of language. In this lecture we
will be talking about the last advances that together
with molecular biology, comes to term with the disection
of the neurological basis underlying speech disorders.
JUAN URIAGEREKA (Department
of Linguistics. University of Maryland, College Park)
The evolution of the language virus
Approximately 120,000 years ago, a mutation took place
in a gene in the hominid genome called FOXP2. Within
a mere sixty thousand more years our species, which
at the time of the genetic change consisted of approximately
20,000 individuals in Central Africa, had reached Asia,
Europe and Australia, crossing desserts and seas in
the process. FOXP2 is implicated in the production of
speech. What is language that it may have evolved so
rapidly? What is evolution that it may apply to language
so dramatically? While addressing these issues, the
present lecture proposes that the evolution of syntactic
structures shares central properties of the evolution
of the immune system.