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Thursday, December 12, 2019

200k, 27M YBP?

In The Atlantic today, a summary of a new article in Science Advances this week about speech evolution:

https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2019/12/when-did-ancient-humans-start-speak/603484/?utm_source=feed

https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/5/12/eaaw3916

I think Greg Hickok had the most trenchant comment, that people are hoping “that there was one thing that had to happen and that released the linguistic abilities.” And John Locke had the best bumper sticker, “Motor control rots when you die.”

As the authors say in the article, recent work has shown that primate vocal tracts are capable of producing some vowel sounds:

https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/2/12/e1600723

https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0169321

This is certainly interesting from a comparative physiological perspective, and the article has a great summary of tube models for vowels. But I don't think that "producing vowel sounds" should be equated with "having speech" in the sense of "having a phonological system". My own feeling is that we should be looking for a couple of things. First, the ability to pair non-trivial sound sequences (phonological representations) with meanings in long term memory. Some nonhuman animals (including dogs) do have this ability, or something like it, so this isn't the lynch pin.

http://science.sciencemag.org/content/304/5677/1682.short

Second, the emergence of speech sound sequencing abilities in both the motor and perceptual systems. That is, the ability to perform computations over sequences; to compose, decompose and manipulate sequences of speech sounds, which includes concatenation, reduplication, phonotactic patterning, phonological processes and so on. The findings closest to showing this for nonhuman animals (birds in this case) that I am aware of are in:

https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms10986

https://journals.plos.org/plosbiology/article?id=10.1371/journal.pbio.2006532

In those papers the debate is framed in terms of syntax, which I think is misguided. But the experiments do show some sound sequencing abilities in the birds which might coincide with some aspects of human phonological abilities. But, of course, this would be an example of convergent evolution, so it tells us almost nothing about the evolutionary history in primates.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

□ modal conference, ◊ you attend

Endless Possibilities: The Development of Possibility and Necessity in Cognition, Language, and Society

Anna Papafragou (Linguistics, University of Pennsylvania)
Ailís Cournane (Linguistics, New York University)
Jonathan Phillips (Psychology, Harvard)
Nicolò Arlotti (Psychological & Brian Sciences, Johns Hopkins)
Lucas Butler (HDQM, UMD)
Valentine Hacquard (Linguistics, UMD)

Friday September 27th from 9:15 to 4 in the UMD Language Science Center (2130 HJ Patterson Hall)

Register here.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Herb Terrace on Nim and Noam

From my colleague Greg Ball, news about a new blog and book by Herb Terrace which will ask how words evolved (as opposed to grammar).

Monday, July 8, 2019

Interesting Post Doc possibility for linguists with cogneuro interests

William Matchin sent me this post doc opportunity for posting on FoL

A Postdoctoral Fellow position is available at the University of South Carolina, under the direction of Prof. William Matchin in the NeuroSyntax laboratory. The post-doc will help develop new projects and lead the acquisition, processing, and analysis of behavioral and neuroimaging data. They will also assist with the organization of the laboratory and coordination of laboratory members. We are particularly interested in candidates with a background in linguistics who are interested in projects at the intersection of linguistics and neuroscience. For more information about our research program, please visit www.williammatchin.com.

Salary and benefits are commensurate with experience. The position is for one year, renewable for a second year, and potentially further pending the acquisition of grant funding.

The postdoctoral associate will work in close association with the Aphasia Lab (headed by Dr. Julius Fridriksson) as part of the NIH-funded Center for the Study of Aphasia Recovery (C-STAR). The NeuroSyntax lab is also part of the Linguistics program, the Neuroscience Community, and the Center for Mind and Brain at UofSC.

The University of South Carolina is in historic downtown Columbia, the capitol of South Carolina. Columbia is centrally located within the state, with a two-hour drive to the beach (including historic Charleston, SC) and the mountains (including beautiful Asheville, NC).

If you are interested in this position, please send an email to Prof. William Matchin matchin@mailbox.sc.eduwith your CV and a brief introduction to yourself, your academic background, and your research interests. You can find more details and apply online: https://uscjobs.sc.edu/postings/60022.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Postdoc position at South Carolina

A Postdoctoral Fellow position is available at the University of South Carolina, under the direction of Prof. William Matchin in the NeuroSyntax laboratory. The post-doc will help develop new projects and lead the acquisition, processing, and analysis of behavioral and neuroimaging data. They will also assist with the organization of the laboratory and coordination of laboratory members. We are particularly interested in candidates with a background in linguistics who are interested in projects at the intersection of linguistics and neuroscience. For more information about our research program, please visit www.williammatchin.com.

Salary and benefits are commensurate with experience. The position is for one year, renewable for a second year, and potentially further pending the acquisition of grant funding.

The postdoctoral associate will work in close association with the Aphasia Lab (headed by Dr. Julius Fridriksson) as part of the NIH-funded Center for the Study of Aphasia Recovery (C-STAR). The NeuroSyntax lab is also part of the Linguistics program, the Neuroscience Community, and the Center for Mind and Brain at UofSC.

The University of South Carolina is in historic downtown Columbia, the capitol of South Carolina. Columbia is centrally located within the state, with a two-hour drive to the beach (including historic Charleston, SC) and the mountains (including beautiful Asheville, NC).

If you are interested in this position, please send an email to Prof. William Matchin matchin@mailbox.sc.edu with your CV and a brief introduction to yourself, your academic background, and your research interests. You can find more details and apply online: https://uscjobs.sc.edu/postings/60022.

Monday, June 17, 2019

The speed of evolution in domestication

In PNAS today an article on "Evolution of facial muscle anatomy in dogs" which argues for an adaptation of canine facial anatomy in the context of domestication.

From the abstract: "Domestication shaped wolves into dogs and transformed both their behavior and their anatomy. Here we show that, in only 33,000 y, domestication transformed the facial muscle anatomy of dogs specifically for facial communication with humans."

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Bees learn symbols for the numbers 2 and 3

In PTRSB today, bees learned to associate "N" with groups of 2, and "⊥" with groups of  3.

From the discussion: "Our findings show that independent groups of honeybees can learn and apply either a sign-to-numerosity matching task or a numerosity-to-sign matching task and subsequently apply acquired skills to novel stimuli. Interestingly, despite bees demonstrating a direct numerosity and sign association, they were unable to transfer the acquired skill to solve a reverse matching task."

So, remembering watching Romper Room as a child, these bees are clearly Do Bees.