In addition to the main conference, EvoLang XIII will host eight thematically focused, half-day workshops. There will be two half-day sessions of four workshops on Tuesday, April 14. Please contact the workshop organizers with workshop specific questions.

Morning workshop session (9:00-13:00)

Afternoon workshop session (14:00-18:00)

Evolution of the Extended Language System

Robert Barton and Cedric Boeckx

Research on the neurobiological basis of language evolution has focussed mainly on cortical mechanisms and on differences between human and chimpanzee brains. However, this may be too restrictive to provide an accurate account of the neurobiology of language evolution, and there is growing appreciation of the contribution of subcortical structures to the control of speech and syntax, together with a phylogenetically broader and more domain-general perspective on behavioural sequence control out of which linguistic syntax may have emerged. Accordingly, this workshop is aimed at developing the concept of an Extended Language System, entailing a consideration of (i) both cortical and subcortical mechanisms and their connectivity,  (ii) general aspects of syntactical behaviour, and (iii) comparisons across a phylogenetically wide range of species. The workshop welcomes input from cognitive scientists/neuroscientists, molecular biologists,  experts in phylogenetic comparative methods, and primatologists interested in syntactical aspects of behaviour


The evolution of morphological systems

Jenny Culbertson and Kenny Smith

The evolution of grammatical morphology–from tense markers, to agreement paradigms, to gender systems–has deep roots in the field of language evolution. Research into grammaticalization processes and the development of pidgins, creoles and emerging sign languages provide real-world insights into how languages develop complex morphology; these observations have inspired a rich body of recent work, using cutting-edge experimental, computational and corpus methods to investigate how complex morphological systems evolve, and why they look the way they do. This workshop will highlight state-of the-art research on the evolution of morphological systems, covering the role of learning and communication in shaping morphology, how specific morphological systems might arise under different conditions, and the extent to which the pressures driving morphological evolution are shared across modalities, domains, and species.

Language as explicandum? Dissecting the interaction engine hypothesis

Raphaela Heesen and Marlen Fröhlich

Language evolution was supposedly preceded by the evolution of a special sociality, by which humans interact via unique cognitive and behavioral abilities summarized as “interaction engine” (Levinson, 2006). This assemblage emerges early in human development, and then later, with the addition of spoken language, enables the participation in sophisticated collaborative activities. However, some of the engine’s elements seem to be rooted in our primate heritage, evinced by great apes’ engagement in communicative turn-taking, face-to-face orientation during opening and closing phases, and communication for collaboration. It is timely to review these findings and gather more comparative data regarding non-human animals’ communication in collaborative contexts. The workshop’s goal is to identify the engine’s elements that may have acted as stepping stones towards language, and to discuss the state of the art regarding the interaction engine hypothesis. We invite for presentations of experimental, observational or theoretical studies of humans and non-human species.


Drift, selection, change, and shift

Andres Karjus, Jack Grieve and Anne Kandler

Language change, like other evolutionary processes, involves both directed selection as well as stochastic drift. Signatures of these processes should be inferable from diachronic data – this is an idea that has been explored in domains of study such as language change, cultural evolution, as well as inter-language competition. These fields share questions, methodologies, and even data, but the research is spread across multiple disciplines including linguistics, biology, physics, mathematics and computer science. The goal of this workshop is to bring together researchers working on various aspects of these issues, including the interplay of drift and selection in language change, success of innovations and borrowings, and competition dynamics both within and between languages. We welcome contributions dealing with methods of identifying these processes, issues regarding data (corpora, censuses, surveys, assemblages, etc.), empirical investigations as well as modelling results.

Anthropological views on early musicality

Jerome Lewis and Ted Bayne

Scientific consensus favoring the multimodal origin of language is growing.  Multi-modal musical forms in extant hunter-gatherer societies (sub-Saharan) are embedded in ritual practice.  These practices make moral assertions for the group or address the group’s relation to the natural world, e.g. gender politics or the hunt.  Human musicality is quite ancient and because it binds to survival-related culture, it has remarkable persistence.  The semiotic relationship between ritual articulation (energetically expensive, virtual, & playful) and individual speech (pragmatic & easy) is an important thread to follow here.  Ritual musicality is key to how social memory is preserved and replayed.  Musical performance structures show a creative balance between the “We” of rhythmic entrainment and the weaving of “My” autonomous melodic voice into the mix.  Group song-dance forms can have a symbolic efficacy at a distance on hunted animals or on pesky spirits that must be beckoned or banished. Please click on the link below for more information about speakers that were planned and for access to submitted papers:

Hands on sign language emergence: current methods

Hannah Lutzenberger and Katie Mudd

What types of scaffolds are present and are needed for a rich linguistic system? Sign Language research offers rare opportunities to address questions of language origins because of a) how young extant sign languages are and b) the diversity of community structures in which these languages emerge. As this topic gains more traction in the EvoLang community, it is essential to highlight state-of-the-art methodologies and foster communication between researchers investigating emerging sign languages using different methodologies. This workshop will provide a platform for researchers to share their successes and failures in fieldwork methodologies, lab-based experimental approaches and computational models of sign language emergence. We welcome submissions investigating sign language emergence using any theoretical approach and methodology.

An integrative approach to the study of language evolution: re-drawing the boundaries of language

Yasamin Motamedi, Piera Filippi and Marieke Schouwstra

It is essential in language evolution research to use a clear definition of what language is, i.e. the set of abilities that make up the human language capacity. Recently, a growing list of behaviours has been recognised to be of importance to language: not only speech and manual signs, but gesture, facial expression and prosody, among others. The integration of these behaviours into linguistic theory and experimentation might suggest that we need to reassess the dividing line between linguistic and non-linguistic behaviours, which in turn may have consequences for how we characterise the evolutionary history of the human language capacity, and what we think is the crucial difference between human language and communication in other species. In this workshop, we invite participants to consider which communicative behaviours might be considered linguistic, how behaviours traditionally thought to be non-linguistic become integrated into a linguistic system, and to what extent the divide between linguistic and non-linguistic behaviours is useful to our understanding of human language.

Taking turns: A new approach to language origins

Simone Pika

Although the scientific study of language has grown increasingly sophisticated on many fronts in the last decades, both empirical and theoretical, language remains a ‘mystery’ for evolutionary theory. Recently, it has been argued that language can be understood as a system of different layers with different phylogenetic and evolutionary origins. In light of this view, an increasing amount of research attention has lately been devoted to the highly cooperative interactional infrastructure underlying language — the turn-taking system. Despite the theoretical importance of turn-taking for language and socio-cognitive evolution, we know relatively little about evolutionary precursors and the development of turn-taking. The workshop will provide an overview of this emerging field by bringing together experts on human and nonhuman animal turn-taking to discuss current approaches, challenges and the use of artificial intelligence techniques.