Here is information on our forthcoming workshop on the place of pragmatics in the evolution of language. We’ll be adding updates here before during and after the workshop.

The workshop is organised by Northumbria colleagues Andrew Feeney and Billy Clark. It is part of the Joint Conference on Language and Evolution taking place in Kanazawa, Japan, and online, 5-8 September 2022.

The conference is the first one jointly organised by Evolang, Protolang and Evolinguistics, the three largest organisations in this area. It will be a huge and hugely significant, event for researchers interested in the evolution of language and communication.

Here’s some more information and the call for papers.

Title:

The place of Pragmatics in the evolution of language: first, last or in parallel?

Organised by:

Andrew Feeney andrew.feeney@northumbria.ac.uk Billy Clark billy.clark@northumbria.ac.uk @billylinguist   

Confirmed Speakers:

Rachel Bailes, Centre for Behaviour and Evolution, Newcastle University, United Kingdom

Andrew Feeney, Department of Humanities, Northumbria University, United Kingdom

Christophe Heintz, Social Mind Center, Department of Cognitive Science, Central European University, Budapest.

Nikolaus Ritt, School of English Linguistics, Vienna University

Thom Scott-Phillips, Social Mind Center, Department of Cognitive Science, Central European University, Budapest

Description:

Interest in language has a recorded history stretching back to the ancient Greeks. Yet for many years the study of ‘grammar’ subsumed inquiry into linguistic sounds and their patterns (phonetics and phonology), the internal structure of meaningful units (morphology), the relationships between these units (syntax) and the encoding of meanings (semantics). A lamentably late addition to these fields of investigation has been the study of how speakers communicate in context, a domain only afforded a name in the last century: pragmatics (Morrison, 1938).

A similar pattern of initial neglect can be seen in the recent history of the study of linguistics within language evolution. The publication of early seminal works by Bickerton (1990) and Pinker and Bloom (1990) established an emphasis on structural aspects of language, a disposition that has since increased with a reductionist focus on primary, underlying computations (Hauser, Chomsky and Fitch, 2002; Pinker and Jackendoff, 2005).

Only recently has this imbalance begun to be corrected and papers are now appearing with an explicit focus on the role of pragmatics in the evolutionary emergence of language. We argue that a spotlight on pragmatic competence is not only to be welcomed, but is indispensable in understanding the emergence and evolution of language as a tool of communication in the hominin clade. For the purposes of this workshop we take it as axiomatic that pragmatic competence is fundamental to language in which ‘communication depends upon the ability of human beings to attribute mental states to others’ (Origgi and Sperber, 2004). However a number of questions arise before the nature of the pragmatic role in language evolution can be fully established and it is these which the workshop intends to address. Specifically (but not exclusively):

To what extent was pragmatic competence foundational to the emergence of language?

Were the earliest forms of language (protolanguage in the literature, e.g. Tallerman, 2012) more akin to the vocal or gestural communication systems seen in other species, before human-type pragmatic aspects of cognition were in place?

What is the balance between biological and socio-cultural factors in the nature and evolutionary development of these cognitive processes?

Can the answer to these questions shed light on the fundamental question of when language first appeared in humans or one of our ancestral species.

Finally, the problems in understanding all areas of language evolution – questions of what constitutes evidence and what methodological forms of inquiry are most appropriate – are no less critical in the exploration of evolutionary pragmatics than any other area.

Call for Papers

This hybrid workshop aims to bring together researchers working with an explicit focus on the role of pragmatics in the evolutionary emergence of language. We argue that a spotlight on pragmatic competence is not only to be welcomed, but is indispensable in understanding the emergence and evolution of language as a tool of communication in the hominin clade. For the purposes of this workshop we take it as axiomatic that pragmatic competence is fundamental to language in which ‘communication depends upon the ability of human beings to attribute mental states to others’ (Origgi and Sperber, 2004). However a number of questions arise before the nature of the pragmatic role in language evolution can be fully established.

We therefore invite contributions (both online and on site: please indicate which mode of presentation you intend in your proposal) for papers of 40 minutes (25 presentation + 15 discussion) on questions including (but not exclusively):

  • to what extent was pragmatic competence foundational to the emergence of language?
  • were the earliest forms of language (protolanguage in the literature) more akin to the vocal or gestural communication systems seen in other species, before human-type pragmatic aspects of cognition were in place?
  • what is the balance between biological and socio-cultural factors in the nature and evolutionary development of these cognitive processes?
  • can the answer to these questions shed light on the fundamental question of when language first appeared in humans or one of our ancestral species?
  • what constitutes evidence and what methodological forms of inquiry are most appropriate in the exploration of evolutionary cognitive and linguistic pragmatics?

Abstracts should be submitted as PDFs to:

https://easychair.org/conferences/?conf=pragjcole2022

no later than 24 June 2022.

Abstracts should not exceed one A4 page (one additional page for references is allowed).

Workshop homepage: https://northumbriaenglish.org/pragmatics-and-language-evolution/

Organisers:

Andrew Feeney andrew.feeney@northumbria.ac.uk   

Billy Clark billy.clark@northumbria.ac.uk          

@billylinguist