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Evolution - Research, NCCR Evolving Language, National Centre of Competence in Research

Language is what distinguishes human beings from all other species. However, its evolutionary origins remain poorly understood. In addition, today’s communicative environment is being reshaped by digitalisation and artificial intelligence: the way we learn and use language has changed, raising the question of how language might develop in the future. The National Centre of Competence in Research “The Origins and Future of Language” (NCCR Evolving Language) explores the evolutionary origins and future development of linguistic communication in a research programme that integrates expertise from linguistics, neuroscience, biology, anthropology, psychology, medicine, genetics, computer science, mathematics and philosophy in a new joint discipline, Evolutionary Language Science. In the long run, the NCCR will establish NISLE, the National Centre for the Interdisciplinary Study of Language Evolution.

The NCCR encompasses two projects that target the core dynamics of language across generations, acquisition and diversification, and three projects that address specific properties of language – syntax, meaning and interaction. These projects are complemented by Transversal Task Forces, which stimulate collaboration by sharing methods, technologies and by fostering discussions on conceptual and ethical issues. Various internal grant opportunities stimulate innovative, outside-the-box research.

From Phase 1 to Phase 2

In the first four years of its existence, the consortium has grown together in our vision of jointly exploring the three modes of evolution that characterize human language:

brain evolution logo

the biological evolution that has defined the basic neuro-cognitive and anatomical substrates of language;

social and technology evolution logo

the cultural evolution of technology and social practices that has shaped and continues to (re-)shape the niche that language operates in;

linguistic evolution logo

and the linguistic evolution that characterises the relentless – but in the long term stationary – dynamics when languages are transmitted over generations.

In Phase 2, we continue to examine these modes not only in their own terms but also in how they interact and shape each other. To this end, we have selected two core projects that address foundational evolutionary processes in language — diversification and learning — which we interlink with three domain-specific projects constituting the core properties of language — syntax, meaning, and interaction. This has led to a set of thirteen different work packages comprising 39 distinct tasks.

Overview of the projects

Mindmap representation of Phase 2 workpackages of the NCCR Evolving Language. Namely: Diversification, Acquisition, Syntax, Meaning and Interaction.
Diversification project
Acquisition project
Syntax project
Interaction project
Meaning project

WP Diversity Conditions

WP Stationarity

WP Diversity Functions

WP Events

WP Hierarchy

WP Locality

WP Pattern Production

WP Learning Trajectories

WP Meaning Behaviour

WP Meaning Computation

WP World Knowledge

WP Information Throughput

WP Information Integration

Diversification project
Acquisition project
Syntax project
Interaction project
Meaning project

WP Diversity Conditions

WP Stationarity

WP Diversity Functions

Diversity generation

Aptitude

Neuromodulation

Protonormativity

Schismogenesis

Storytelling

Population history

Call dynamics

Phylogenetic modelling

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WP Locality

WP Hierarchy

WP Events

Diversification project
Acquisition project
Syntax project
Interaction project
Meaning project

Event cognition

Transitivity

Hierarchy implementation

Hominin planning

Hierarchy computation

Call locality

Locality dynamics

Locality processing

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WP Pattern Production

WP Learning Trajectories

Diversification project
Acquisition project
Syntax project
Interaction project
Meaning project

Tutoring

Input features

Neural-genetics trajectories

Digital intervention

Behavioral trajectories

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WP Meaning Behaviour

WP Meaning Computation

WP World Knowledge

Diversification project
Acquisition project
Syntax project
Interaction project
Meaning project

Lexical innovation

Animal meaning

Meaning change

Silicon meaning

Meaning representation

Meaning mapping

Rules

Instructions

Silicon knowledge

Comparative cognition

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Neural integration

Hyperscanning

Clinical intervention

Behavioural integration

Social competence

WP Information Throughput

WP Information Integration

Diversification project
Acquisition project
Syntax project
Interaction project
Meaning project

Information load

Hypercooperation

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Support and other research projects

As there are many research projects under the NCCR Evolving Language, Transversal Task Forces (TTF) continue to exist, as essential support structures to other projects. Special Interest Groups (SIG) are also implemented, as innovative think-tanks across projects.

Finally, the Structure-Related Areas (SRAs) are also present to support the projects with their administrative needs.