A workshop of Evolang XII, Torun April 16, 2018 (Torún, Poland)
A defining property of human language is compositionality: our capacity to combine and recombine meaningful units to create and interpret innumerable complex meaningful expressions. How did this capacity arise and evolve? In this workshop, we approach this issue from a multidisciplinary perspective.
The uniqueness of language has been repeatedly challenged by comparative studies with other species, such as birds, which recombine melodic units, and non-human primates, which combine elements to create multimodal signals. However, to date, evidence for combination and recombination of meaningful signals in other species is vanishingly scarce. Another illuminating realm of investigation is spontaneously arising sign languages, which, unlike spoken languages, can be studied from the earliest stages, offering novel insight into the emergence of compositionality. Finally, all human language is accompanied by gesture, generally regarded as an ancient communicative system that is an inherent component of contemporary language. What is the relation between gesture and compositionality?
The workshop seeks the roots of compositionality as the quintessential property of language by bringing together researchers from linguistics, gesture, sign languages, evolutionary biology, and primate communication.