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Signed Languages Talk – Kocab

February 24, 2020 @ 12:00 pm - 1:30 pm

The Origins of Language: Evidence from Nicaraguan Sign Language and the Lab

Annemarie Kocab, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Fellow

Mind Brain Behavior Interfaculty Initiative

Harvard University


All societies have languages capable of expressing the richness of human thought. How
much of this achievement is an historical accomplishment, similar to mathematics or
science? To what extent does this ability rely on our evolved cognitive capacities? Dr.
Kocab studies these questions by looking at language creation in different communities,
including Nicaraguan Sign Language, a new language only 50 years old, homesign
systems, and laboratory-created communication systems. Dr. Kocab will present results on
how a new language comes to have recursion, quantifiers like “some” and “all,” and
temporal language. Dr. Kocab finds evidence for rapid emergence of linguistic structure
within a few generations. She will argue that three factors appear critical to the origins and
complexity of languages: (1) individual child minds, which (2) interact in a language
community, with (3) the opportunity for intergenerational transmission and reanalysis.

This talk is part of the Opening Doors Through Language: Access and Equity Faculty Cluster Search


February 24, 2020
12:00 pm - 1:30 pm
Event Category: