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Revisiting the Role of Children in Language Evolution and Language Change

The CEU Campus
Wednesday, February 27, 2019, 5:00 pm – 6:30 pm

Recent efforts using methods from experimental semiotics have been trying to understand how cognitive processes that underpin language learning and language use contribute to language evolution and language change. Here, a prominent notion is that structure arises from the interaction of learners’ cognitive constraints with communicative pressures that operate during referential communication. The bulk of this research has been conducted with adults yet research on creolisation and emergence of sign languages has implicated children as the primary agents of linguistic change, attributing – paradoxically – emergence of regularity and structure to children’s cognitive limitations. In this talk, I will review some recent evidence that challenges this notion by demonstrating persistent failures of children in various experimental semiotics tasks and tentatively suggest mechanisms by which accommodation and teaching of children by adults might contribute to language evolution and language change.