Lecture: “Biological constraints on language evolution”
While much progress has been made in linking universal biases in linguistic structure to internal mechanisms of language use (for example in the form of frequency effects), the time is ripe for extending the explanatory scope beyond language itself. In this lecture, I will present some of our recent work that derives specific distributional biases in language from specific properties of the biological mechanisms in the human brain and speech apparatus, and ultimately from the evolutionary roots of these mechanisms. I will focus on three case studies on biologically or neuro-biologically grounded asymmetries in the processing mechanisms of specific sound types (labiodental vs other), words classes (nouns vs verbs) and semantic roles (agents vs patients). I will discuss the implications of this work for probing the phylogeny and ontogeny of language as part of a wider interdisciplinary undertaking.
Workshop: “Digital methods for modern language science“
Digital methods are currently revolutionizing language science. This course introduces the basic concepts and tools in this endeavor. We will begin by reviewing by-now classical approaches that rely on digital corpora and discuss what they can teach us about language structure and their dynamics. But the main emphasis of the course is to show how digital methods allow new insights and open new research avenues far beyond corpus-based research. For this purposes, we will first address the advantage that modern database technology and data visualization techniques bring to the analysis of individual grammatical phenomena (e.g. specific clause-linkage constructions) as part of, say, documentary fieldwork or grammar writing. We will then expand the scope to comparative work on the history of languages (language families, language diversity) and their properties (language typology), emphasizing in particular statistical approaches to uncertainty and noise in our data.
The course does not presuppose technical knowledge of digital methods and aims instead at showing how students can familiarize themselves with such methods and what benefits they can expect from this for their linguistic work.