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ANNOUNCING THE CAMBRIDGE BIOLINGUISTICS INITIATIVE

Colleagues,

The biolinguistic thesis states that language is a biological system internal to an individual of the species Homo
sapiens sapiens for generating structured linguistic expressions over a potentially unbounded range; the design of the
system is determined by a genetic endowment, external stimuli, and natural laws. With such an expansive scope, the
thesis can be thoroughly explored only through interdisciplinary enterprises—the organization of which is the
desideratum of the Cambridge Biolinguistics Initiative (CBI).

To work toward understanding the particular design of language and perhaps thereby human intelligence generally,
CBI intends to synthesize ideas from linguistics, (evolutionary) biology, zoology, the brain sciences,
(paleo)anthropology, the formal sciences, philosophy, and elsewhere.

Some overarching questions we hope to address include the following:


• When, where, and how did language evolve?
• Which traits distinguish language from apparently similar systems in nonhuman animals?
• Is there a correlation between linguistic diversity and biodiversity?
• What is the relation between language and culture?
• How are biological, linguistic, and cultural evolution similar/different?
• Can the formal structure of the linguistic system be studied independent of its use in thought, memory, and
communication?
• Which properties of the design of language can be derived from natural laws of computation (studied in
mathematics, information theory, physics, etc.)?

These questions will necessarily incorporate investigation into those systems that interface with and even derive
(from) the linguistic domain: for example, human capacities of science-formation and belief-fixation (How is
knowledge of language and other aspects of the world engendered and acquired?), mathematical/logical reasoning
(What is the relation between language and mathematics/logic?), musical competence (A variation on a linguistic
theme?), moral and esthetic judgments (Generated reflexively over an unbounded range?), and parallels to these
elsewhere in the animal kingdom.

We hope that CBI will serve as a forum for lectures, reading groups, and workshops. If interested in CBI, we would
be most appreciative of your replying to jw647@cam.ac.uk so that we can estimate the number of potential
participants and plan accordingly. Should you be interested in lecturing or conducting a reading group (or
suggesting readings for discussion), please contact Jeffrey Watumull at jw647@cam.ac.uk; you may of course
merely attend sessions. And, finally, do please forward this invitation to colleagues or departments that could be
interested.

All the best,

Theresa Biberauer, Senior Research Associate, Department of Linguistics, University of Cambridge


Ian Roberts, Professor of Linguistics, Department of Linguistics, University of Cambridge
Bert Vaux, University Reader in Linguistics, Department of Linguistics, University of Cambridge
Jeffrey Watumull, PhD Student, Department of Linguistics, University of Cambridge