Cool Logic

Bas Cornelissen (ILLC)

Words adrift? An excursion into the cultural evolution of language.

February 16th at 18:00, in F1.15

Congratulations! Together with our cats and cattle, we, humans, have accumulated a staggering portion of the planet's walking biomass — an unlikely fea(s)t for top predators like ourselves. But is biomass what makes humans special? How about logic? Language? (Computation?) Some would say that all of these are ‘mere’ products of something more fundamental: our species’ remarkable capacity for cumulative culture.

The idea that cultural processes indeed hold answers to deep questions about language has fascinated a group of researchers for decades. This talk is a brief excursion into their field: the cultural evolution of language. We will follow the route of ‘iterated learning’, which tries to understand how cultural transmission can shape languages. On the way, we visit an unlikely assortment of topics: from zebra finch song cultures, emerging compositionality and integer-ratio rhythms to baby names, Bayesian learners and even genetic drift.