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Seminar: The evolutionary origins of syntax, Ron Planer, 25 July

Australian National University, Evolution, Kim Sterelny

Date: 24 July 2019

Seminar: The evolutionary origins of syntax,

Speaker: Ron Planer

When:25 July 2019, 4pm-5.30pm

Where: Seminar Room 2/3 (3.03/3.04), Sir Rowland Wilson Building, ANU


One of the main challenges we face in explaining the evolution of human languages is providing an account of the origins syntax. In this talk, I outline a model of the evolution of basic syntax in our line. Towards this end, I draw upon work on both monkey and ape communication, as well as great-ape language learning experiments. I argue that, taken together, this evidence enables us to effect a surprising reduction in the explanatory burden we face: great apes are, or very nearly are, syntax-ready. Thus, the core of the challenge is to explain why syntax was created in our line, and why it persisted as a stable design feature of human languages once it was created. I will suggest that a key driver of the evolution of syntax was communication about social behaviour.

This talk is presented as part of the 2019 Biological Anthropology Research Seminar Series

  • Australian Government
  • The University of Queensland
  • Australian National University
  • The University of Melbourne
  • Western Sydney University