Archive for January, 2008

New Finds Might Solve Peking Man Mystery

“Chinese archaeologists are hailing their biggest discovery in almost 80 years after unearthing a skull that could provide a clue to the origins of a fifth of the world’s population. The fossilised skull, named Xuchang Man after the city where it was found, is thought to date back 80,000 to 100,000 years, to a period that has long been a mystery to scientists.”

Guardian Science. Read the rest here.

Major Language Evolution Papers: #1

Understanding and sharing intentions: The origins of cultural cognition – Tomasello et al (2005)

Who’s it by? It’s by Michael Tomasello and some illustrious associates. Tomasello is a cognitive psychologist with an interest in cognitive development.

What’s it about? It presents a unifying hypothesis for a lot of the recent discoveries in human evolution, primatology and childhood development. Tomasello argues that the ability to read and share intentions is the basis for human cognition, and that we are adapted to this purpose in a way that close relatives like chimpanzees aren’t.

Why should an evolutionary linguist care? Because buried deep in that hypothesis is the assumption that language is part of this cognitive aparatus. Tomasello’s argument therefore offers the biggest contemporary challenge to the Chomskian consensus on language evolution, placing it behind the cognition of shared intentionality in terms of both emergence and importance.

So, thanks to the generosity of Chrissy Cuskley, here is a PDF of her presentation about this paper.

Current Issues In Language Evolution: Presentations and Papers

I’m taking advantage of Simon Kirby‘s Current Issues in Language Evolution class to make a series of posts on some of the major papers on language evolution that have been released in the past ten years. I’ll blog about some of the papers as we cover them in class, and hopefully provide online copies of the presentations that people have produced with some basic information and commentary. The aim is to provide a set of blog posts that will provide newcomers with some of the key papers in the field, and some detailed analysis of their claims.

Animal Cognition and Philosophy

There is a great philosophy paper about animal cognition here. It covers a lot of familiar ground for evolutionary linguists but there is some great discussion of metacognition experiments and a pretty comprehensive list of all of the most important animal behavior papers of the last thirty years. Well worth reading for newcomers and experts alike.

‘The Superorganism’ is Back in Fashion

A New E. O. Wilson Book About Group Selection


The great biologist E. O. Wilson is releasing a new book call The Superorganism in which he is develops the group selection argument to posit the existence of higher level evolutionary units. An idea that has already been eloquently proposed by the other great Wilson (David Sloane Wilson) in Unto Others. This is going to be very interesting for us on two completely different levels…

Continue reading ‘‘The Superorganism’ is Back in Fashion’

Even Dawkins gets it wrong sometimes…

Not really language evolution per se, but Edge, the online intellectual magazine has a fascinating feature in which they’ve asked the world’s big name intellectuals “what have you got wrong?” The answers offer some great insights into the people behind the names, with some very open and honest answers.  Marc Hauser’s reflections on the limits of Darwinism are particularly interesting. Here are the entries for those famous names (distantly) connected with language evolution:

Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker, Irene Pepperberg, David Sloane-Wilson, Daniel Dennet, Marc Hauser