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The Evolution of Language as Technology: The Cultural Dimension

by Prof. Salikoko S. Mufwene, Frank J. McLoraine Distinguished Service Professor, Department of Linguistics and Humanities Collegiate Division, The University of Chicago

Humanities Lecture Series
Date                  22 June 2016
Time                  5:00pm
Venue                Room GH803, PolyU
(The talk will be conducted in English.)


Accounts of the phylogenetic emergence of languages need not be framed exclusively in terms of biological or cultural evolution. It is also debatable whether this distinction is about the evolutionary mechanisms involved. Assuming that languages are communication technologies (Mufwene 2013), Prof. Mufwene submits that the emergence of modern languages was enabled by that of the modern brain. On the other hand, variation in the way different populations have structured their respective languages (just like variation in, for instance, the ways they prepare their foods, produce their musics, and articulate their religions) underscores the cultural dimension of languages. Different populations have simply evolved different ways of behaving and doing things while shaping their social organizations and adapting to their natural ecologies. The speaker argues that cultures do not produce languages; rather, the emergence and evolution of the latter, like those of music and other cultural phenomena, have contributed to shaping particular cultures.

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