Language and Species

TESC/E&W Studies/Winter ‘12 Syllabus Instructor: Richard McKinnon, Ph.D. Email: Course Description: Humans often claim distinction as unique among the animals of the world. This course examines this hypothesis from the perspective of communication. What are the parameters that govern communication systems of all species? Why do bees dance, frogs croak, and humans speak? What kinds of messages do members of various species communicate to each other? Is human language qualitatively different from other forms of animal communication? If so, how did it evolve to be so different and what does that mean about humans as a species? We will employ the tools of linguistics, psychology, ethology and anthropology to find answers to these questions. Required Readings: Bickerton, Derek, 2009. Adam’s Tongue. Hill and Wang. Extended Readings: Course Objectives: By the end of the quarter, participants will: ● be familiar with the evolutionary landscape around humans (wrt communication), and how language distinguishes us, ● develop a model for understanding brain development and mental architecture as the set of adaptive solutions to “problems” presented by the environment, and be able to describe the relationship between language and general cognition (smarts), ● have a greater appreciation for the complexity of language, as well as for some other specialized abilities of animals and humans. ● be able to describe the specific evolutionary pressures that caused language to evolve. Course Activities: Participants will produce response writings (not less than 750 words in length) for each week. The response writing will address a specific issue raised in the readings for that week, and may begin with a brief quote or summary of an argument from the text. A forum will be available on the web where participants will post response writings each week. Finally, participants will produce an end-of-quarter project in the form of a creation of (or substantial contribution to) a Wikipedia entry concerning animal communication or the evolution of language. This project will include readings beyond those provided in the course materials. Participants may form groups to complete the Wikipedia project. Participant’s work will be evaluated on the following components: ● Contribution to class discussion of readings (Moodle and in-class). ● Completion of response writings. ● Independent research of journal articles and book chapters. ● Completion of Wikipedia project. ● Completion of a peer-reviewed self-assessment.

Course Schedule
*All readings should be completed before class on the week they are assigned.*


Bickerton Readings:

Week 1: Introduction: What is language? -Language instinct/organ/module/frames of mind Video: Thinking Allowed: Steven Pinker or With and Without Words (Human Language Series) Week 2: Pidgins and Protolanguages Suppl. Readings: Slobin; Zuberbuehler; Deacon Video: The Wild Child. Week 3: The Holistic Hypothesis Suppl. Readings: Pepperberg; de Waal; Falk Video: Animal Minds or Koko Week 4: The Social Hypothesis Suppl. Readings: Dunbar; Gardner; Savage-Rumbaugh Video: Week 5: Niche Construction Suppl. Readings: Pinker (all groups) Video: The Blind Watchmaker Week 6: The Recruitment Hypothesis Suppl. Readings: Video: The Life of the Honey Bee Week 7: Spandrels & Exaptation Suppl. Readings: HC&F; Gould; Pinker & Bloom Video: The Mind’s Big Bang Week 8: Concepts & Categories Suppl. Readings: Video: Week 9: The Pace of Incrementalism Suppl. Readings: Video: Week 10: The Structure of Language Chs. 1 & 2

Ch. 3

Ch. 4

Chs. 5-6

Ch. 7-8

Ch. 9

Ch. 10

Ch. 11

Ch. 12

Suppl. Readings: Everett Video: Human Quest – The Nature of Human Nature *All readings should be read before class on the week they are assigned.*

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