Séminaire Anne Reboul
Language evolution: communication and cognition
Anne Reboul, DR CNRS, Institute for Cognitive Sciences-Marc Jeannerod, CNRS UMR 5304
I will quickly outline the type of research that I have done throughout my scientific life, with a special attention to recent work, mostly on the topic of language evolution. The two main questions regarding language evolution are to what extent abilities which are strongly linked to language in humans are also present in nonhuman animals, notably primates and also why, if they are found in nonhuman primates, language (seen as a whole) seems to be species specific. By now, everyone (including Chomsky) agrees that language is a collection of abilities (notwithstanding the distinction between the Faculty of Language in the Broad vs. in the Narrow Sense). In the Chomskyan paradigm, the idea is that the abilities in the FLB interact with the FLN which is reduced to a single simple syntactic operation, merge, and that these abilities can be divided between those relating to the externalization and those relating to the semantics of sentences. All of these abilities can be investigated as to whether or not they are found in nonhuman primates and have been so investigated notably by the Comparative Cognition team in the LPC. Interestingly, given that some theories saw language as strongly grounded in the vocal abilities of humans, it seems more and more obvious that at least some primate species share these abilities. Chomsky himself has consistently seen semantics (the so-called conceptual-intentional system) as more fundamental than externalization to language. I will explore the abilities that go into the conceptual-intentional system, some of which have already been investigated here at the LPC, and propose a few new lines of research.