A workshop of Evolang XII, Torun April 16, 2018, 9:00-13:30 (Torún, Poland)
A defining property of human language is compositionality: our capacity to combine and recombine meaningful units to create and interpret innumerable complex expressions. How did this capacity arise and evolve? Does it exist in other species? In this workshop, we approach compositionality and its evolution 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. Is there compositionality in communication of nonhuman primates? In humans, sign languages exploit our presumably ancient gestural capacity and mold it into language. What can newly arising sign languages teach us about the nature of compositionality and its emergence? What is the relation between co-speech gesture and compositionality in contemporary spoken language? The workshop seeks the roots of compositionality as the quintessential property of language by bringing together researchers from linguistics, sign languages, gesture, and primate communication.