2011-12 Catalog

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Offering Description

Language and the Evolution of Mind

Spring 2012 quarter

Kevin Francis history of science and technology , David Paulsen cognitive science, philosophy , Rachel Hastings linguistics, mathematics
Fields of Study
anthropology, biology, consciousness studies, linguistics and philosophy
Preparatory for studies or careers in
biology, cognitive science, linguistics, philosophy and psychology.

What does our ability to speak and understand language reveal about the human mind? How much of our knowledge of language can be attributed to an innate language capacity and how much is dependent on individual experience? How are children able to develop a detailed and abstract understanding of their native language at a very young age? And how did human language evolve in the first place? In this program we will study theories of cognition, brain structure, and consciousness as they relate to the complex phenomena of language evolution, acquisition and use.

We will explore diverse kinds of evidence that shed light on the evolution of language, including recent work in evolutionary biology, animal behavior, neurobiology, cognitive neuroscience, and the evolutionary genetics of language. To understand the nature of linguistic processing we will look at the structure of language and ask what capacities must be present within human cognition in order for us to produce and understand human languages. We will study the ideas of Noam Chomsky and others who argue for a "universal grammar" as an explanation of rapid language acquisition and similarity among languages. We will also examine the parallels between human language and communication in other animals. Finally, we will reflect on the strategies adopted by scientists to reconstruct events in the deep past.

Program activities will include seminar, lectures and workshops. We will devote significant time to providing background material in linguistics, evolutionary biology, and cognitive neuroscience that pertains to the evolution of language. We will read scientific and philosophical material that addresses fundamental questions about consciousness, the relationship between mind and brain, and the relation between cognition and the human capacity for language. As part of this program, students should expect to participate actively in seminar, write several essays, and complete a final research project.

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