Lecture | W. Tecumseh Fitch | The Biology & Evolution of Language: Continuity and Change
Professor Tecumseh Fitch
Dept of Cognitive Biology, University of Vienna, Austria
I investigate human language viewed as a species-typical aspect of our biology, and attempt to understand it via comparison with other species’ cognition and communication systems (the comparative approach). The first step in doing so is to break language down to its components (the multi-component approach) and then ask which components are shared with which other species (or not). I present evidence for continuity in speech perception, most aspects of speech production, and of human conceptual semantics with animal cognition, and evidence for discontinuity when it comes to organizing principles of syntax (hierarchical structure) and potentially some aspects of semantics (pragmatic, theory-of-mind based production). I conclude that comparative research, guided by specific computational and mechanistic models deriving from linguistics and cognitive science, must play a central role in future attempts to understand language evolution.