Keynote Lecture: Katie Slocombe

Katie Slocombe

The evolution of language: What do chimpanzees have to say?

Wednesday, October 25, 2023, 3:45 – 4:45 pm, Auditorium

Log In to play session recording

Chair: Sophie Scott, University College London
Katie Slocombe, University of York

Language is unparalleled in its complexity and understanding its evolutionary origins is a scientific question of enduring interest. One powerful approach to understanding how language evolved is to compare the communication systems of humans with those of other primates. Patterns of similarities and differences between species within a comparative framework allows us to infer which structural or socio-cognitive elements of language are uniquely human and which may have more ancient evolutionary roots. As one of our closest living relatives, chimpanzees are a particularly informative comparator species. I will discuss the degree to which there are commonalities and differences between aspects of chimpanzee vocal communication and human language, such as reference. I will then consider the psychological mechanisms underpinning signal production in chimpanzees, focussing on flexibility and intentionality. Finally, I will consider the degree to which aspects of social cognition, such as joint attention, which provide crucial scaffolding for human language, may be present in our closest living relatives.

About Katie Slocombe

Dr Slocombe’s research interests center around using the comparative approach to understand how key aspects of human cognition evolved, including human language. Her work focuses on chimpanzee vocal communication and in particular, the extent to which our closest living relatives can use calls to refer to objects and events in the external environment and the psychological mechanisms underlying call production. This behavioral work has been conducted with both wild and captive populations of chimpanzees. Her current core research topics include multimodal communication and joint attention in chimpanzees and human infants, cognition in parrots and corvids, and chimpanzee welfare.
The SNL 2023 Keynote Lecture is Sponsored by The MIT Press.

SNL Account Login

Forgot Password?
Create an Account