Announcing the spring ASL Lecture Series event, presented by Dr. Annemarie Kocab of Harvard University.  The title of her presentation is “The Origins of Language: Evidence from Nicaraguan Sign Language” which will be held on Thursday, April 8, from 5-6:30 as a Zoom webinar.  Abstract and bio are detailed below and a flier is attached.


The lecture will be presented in ASL with English interpretation.  It is free and open to the public with pre-registration required.


Please register here in order to receive the link for the presentation:

Webinar registration link: https://upenn.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_L0ILIuvhT3-EQkH1bCkBDA


If you have questions, please contact Dr. Jami Fisher, Director of ASL, Department of Linguistics: jami@sas.upenn.edu




Abstract: All human societies have languages capable of expressing the richness of human thought. To what extent is this achievement an historical accomplishment, similar to mathematics or science, and to what extent does it rely on our evolved cognitive capacities? I study these questions by looking at language creation in different communities, including Nicaraguan Sign Language (a new language only 50 years old), homesign systems, and laboratory-created communication systems. I will present results on how a new language comes to have recursion and quantifiers like “some” and “all." In both cases, I find evidence for rapid emergence of linguistic structure within a few generations. One possible explanation for these findings is that features that emerge early are those that reflect underlying shared semantic structures that are universal (or nearly) in languages. In contrast, the features that emerge later (e.g., grammatical morphology) may be those that vary across languages and require convergence and iterated learning.


Bio: Dr. Annemarie Kocab is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Departments of Linguistics and Psychology at Harvard University. Dr. Kocab's work combines the study of linguistic structure with considerations of the cognitive factors involved in language learning and change. Much of her work has focused on Nicaraguan Sign Language, which began to emerge in the 1970s. In parallel, Dr. Kocab's work investigates these questions using language creation paradigms with children and adults in the laboratory. She received her BA from Wellesley College and her PhD from Harvard University under the mentorship of Jesse Snedeker.