Minerva-Gentner Symposium on EMERGENT LANGUAGES AND CULTURAL EVOLUTION. Max Planck Institute Nijmegen June 20-22 2013
Luc Steels and Tessa Verhoef contributed to a symposium at the MPI Nijmegen on emergent sign languages. Steels contributed with a talk on "Cultural Language Evolution: selection or random drift?" and Tessa Verhoef lead the discussion on the state of the art in cultural evolution.
The symposium tried to merge two strands of work that have hitherto been largely independent, namely on language and cultural evolution on the one hand, and sign languages (especially small scale 'village' level sign systems) on the other. New spoken languages (like pidgins and creoles) have often emerged, but always with substantial input from existing languages. Only sign languages have sprung entirely de novo, where they have originated in isolation from other languages. What can we learn about the essential nature of language, and about the early processes of cultural evolution, by looking at these emerging sign languages?
Other contributors to the symposium included Stephen Levinson, Wendy Sandler, Ann Senghas, Susan Goldin-Meadow, Kenny Smith, Nick Evans and Mark Aronoff.