WP 5 Language evolution and diversity
Stephen Levinson is Professor of Comparative Linguistics at RU and Co-director of the MPI for Psycholinguistics. He has done fieldwork in Dravidian languages in India, Australia, and currently works in Mexico on the Mayan language Tzeltal and on Yélî Dnye, a Papuan isolate of Papua New Guinea. For the range of his research see:
Stephen Levinson’s department at the MPI for Psycholinguistics focusses on language diversity and its implications for theories of human cognition (see http://www.mpi.nl/departments/language-and-cognition). Language is the only animal communication system that differs radically in form and meaning across social groups of the same species, a fact that has been neglected in the cognitive sciences. His work attempts both to grasp what this diversity is all about, and to exploit it as a way of discovering the role that language plays in our everyday cognition. In addition we seek to understand what makes language possible despite this diversity, and the current hypothesis is that there is a shared pan-human pragmatics of communication that allows children to bootstrap themselves up into the details of their local language.
There are two main lines of current research, a project on the Interactional Foundations of Language, and a project on the psycholinguistic processing of languages with different word orders (e.g. VOS vs. SOV).
For more information on Stephen Levinson’s own research please visit his personal website.