What Allows Human Language? Seeking the Genetic, Anatomical, Cognitive, and Cultural Factors Underlying Language Emergence
February 1-28, 2023
June 1 - July 31, 2023
Inbal Arnon (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
Liran Carmel (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
Language is unique to humans: while other species possess sophisticated communication systems, none approach the complexity of human language. Importantly, what allows this unique ability is still not understood. What is clear, however, is that the answer lies in the combination of multiple cultural, cognitive, genetic and anatomical factors. Recent years have seen significant advances in our understanding of the genetic and cultural properties of archaic human groups, our knowledge about the complexity of nonhuman communication systems, and our ability to test questions about human and language evolution using big data sets and novel computational tools. These advances have the potential to provide novel insights about three crucial questions, which will be the focus of this group: (a) the timeline of language evolution, (b) the factors involved in its emergence, (c) the extent to which human language is qualitatively different from nonhuman communication systems.
Answering these questions requires integrating across multiple research fields and scientific communities. The research will address them from an interdisciplinary perspective, by bringing together researchers working on the genetic, anatomical, cognitive, and cultural underpinnings of archaic and modern humans, alongside researchers of animal communication and cognition. Such a conversation can generate new answers on the long-debated question of how language emerged, and why it has only emerged in humans.