Keynote Lecture: Katie Slocombe
The evolution of language: What do chimpanzees have to say?
Wednesday, October 25, 2023, 3:45 – 4:45 pm, Auditorium
Chair: Sophie Scott, University College London
Speaker: 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.