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Language & the Brain: Evolution, its use and social interaction

16850 - Seminar

Dr. Rosario Tomasello

Location: JK 26/201 (Habelschwerdter Allee 45)

Time: Wednesday, 16:00-18:00

First Appointment: 18.10.2023

Language: English

Compulsory participation: Yes

SWS: 2



The aim of this seminar is to provide a comprehensive insight into the evolution of language, encompassing both biological and cultural changes. We will explore thought-provoking questions based on language evolution theories, such as the distinctions between human and animal communication and the reasons behind humans' ability to acquire a vast vocabulary compared to our closest ancestors. Through an exploration of neurocognitive experimental research and incorporating insights from artificial neurocomputational modeling, we will investigate the underlying mechanisms in the human mind and brain that govern language processing, usage, and evolution. Additionally, we will place particular emphasis on linguistic pragmatics, a sub-discipline that examines language as a tool of communication in social contexts, drawing upon foundational concepts from analytical philosophy and linguistic pragmatic models. Throughout these discussions, we will explore factors such as social interaction, turn-taking, and the establishment of common ground. Furthermore, there will be planned visits to the electroencephalography (EEG) laboratory to provide hands-on experience with neurocognitive experiments, as well as a visit to the aphasia therapy center of the Brain Language Unit at the Freie Universität Berlin. Please note that the seminar will be conducted in English.

Readings (course preparation):
  • Tomasello M. 2004. Origins of human communication, MIT press. 
  • Schomers MR, Garagnani M, Pulvermüller F. 2017. Neurocomputational Consequences of Evolutionary Connectivity Changes in Perisylvian Language Cortex. J Neurosci. 37:3045–3055. 
  • Pickering, M. J., & Garrod, S. (2004). Toward a mechanistic psychology of dialogue. Behav Brain Sci, 27(2), 169-190; discussion 190-226. 
  • Tomasello, R. (2023). Linguistic signs in action: The neuropragmatics of speech acts. Brain & Language 236:105203. 
  • Pulvermüller, F., Tomasello, R., Henningsen-Schomers, M.R., Wenneker, T. (2021) Biological constraints on neural network models of cognitive function. Nat Rev Neurosci 22, 488–5

Material (Passwortgeschützter Bereich)