Workshop on Language Evolution and Diversity

Held on October 30-31, 2014 at Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen, The Netherlands.

Description and aim

In order to gain a comprehensive understanding of linguistic universality and diversity, we need to study its cognitive, cultural, and biological underpinnings. Work Package 5 of the Language in Interaction Consortium hopes to achieve this goal by studying language diversity at three different levels: at the level of individuals, languages, and species. Though the kind of variation under study may differ, many fundamental research questions are shared across researchers of language diversity. For instance, how do language users manage diversity? What determines the linguistic diversity between individual language users? What are the genetic foundations of vocal learning?
In an attempt to bring together the different questions and methodologies of researchers of language diversity, we are organizing a two-day workshop. Its purpose is to find the common ground that connects the study of diversity at the different levels (e.g., shared research questions, mutual interests, methodology that can be adopted from different research fields) through interdisciplinary interaction.

We have invited four international speakers to talk about their expertise in studying language diversity at the level of individuals, languages, and/or species, namely:

  • Constance Scharff (Freie Universität, Berlin)
    Title: "Songbirds and other critters as model organism for speech and language"
  • Franck Ramus (CNRS, Paris)
    Title: "Neuroanatomical and language variation at the individual level"
  • Friederike Luepke (University of London)
    Title: "The necessity of small differences. Multilingualism as a social strategy in a shared cultural space"
  • Jonathan Peelle (Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, USA)
    Title: "Individual differences in neural responses to diverse speech signals"

In addition, four ‘local’ speakers will represent the research that is taking place within our own PI groups. In this way, we hope to foster interaction between ‘familiar’ and ‘unfamiliar’ research:

  • Pralle Kriengwatana (Leiden University)
    Title: "Resolving speaker variability in speech: a comparison of humans and songbirds"
  • Clyde Francks (MPI)
    Title: "Genomics and language"
  • Mark Dingemanse (MPI)
    Title: "Conversation across cultures: Unity and diversity in systems of language use"
  • Hans Rutger Bosker (MPI)
    Title: "Diversity in how listeners cope with variation in speech"

In order to streamline the presentations and discussions, each speaker will be asked to present their view on the following three topics:

  • To what extent is it possible to establish links between the different levels of language diversity? In other words, how can the study of diversity at one level inform the study of diversity at another level?
  • What new techniques are available or required to study diversity at these three levels?
  • Are there levels of diversity that are not included in this WP that should not be ignored?

Finally, two PhD students will present an overview of their projects on language diversity - starting September  2014 as part of WP5:

  • Luis Miguel Rojas-Berscia (RU)
  • Fabian Heim (Freie Universität, Berlin)


Thursday 30 October 2014  
Coffee / Tea
Jonathan Peelle
Hans Rutger Bosker
Frederike Luepke
Mark Dingemanse
Luis Miguel Rojas-Berscia
End of first day
Friday 31 October 2014  
Franck Ramus
Clyde Francks
Constance Sharff
Pralle Kriengwatana
Fabian Heim
Final discussion
End of the workshop

Contact and Location

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Hans Rutger Bosker
Phone: +31-24-3521373

Evelyn Veen
Phone: +31-24-3521336

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Max Planck Institute for Psycholinquistics
Wundtlaan 1; Room 163
6525 XD, Nijmegen
The Netherlands


This workshop has been made possible through funding from the Language in Interaction Consortium and a Radboud Internationalisation grant from Radboud University.