Creativity and innovation in language evolution

Christine Cuskley, Vittorio Loreto, Francesca Tria, Vito D.P. Servedio

Institute for Scientific Interchange, Social Dynamics Unit, Turin, Italy

University of Rome, La Sapienza, Dipartimento di Fisica, Rome, Italy

University of Edinburgh, Language Evolution and Computation Unit, Edinburgh, UK

This workshop will examine how creativity and innovations, among both individuals and populations, contribute to language evolution. Recent efforts to study and define creativity have drawn considerable interest from both psychology and complex systems science, but few have taken an evolutionary perspective on the problem, particularly with respect to verbal and linguistic creativity. The workshop will focus on two perspectives on this problem: one which takes the close view of language features and structure common in much work on language evolution, and one which takes a broader view of language as a creative tool for play, interaction, and narrative. In the first view, the workshop aims to showcase work which helps us to understand how innovations arise and spread in language, and what role creativity might play in this process. This should aim to inform how languages diverge, how new features or variants arise in languages over time, as well as spread across space (e.g., the diffusion of neologisms across a social network). In the broader view, we aim to examine how language informs creativity in play and narrative, and how this has contributed to linguistic and cognitive evolution in humans. This part of the workshop will focus on the development and evolution of individual linguistic creativity, the presence of creativity in nonhuman animals, the uniquely human creative traditions of storytelling and music, and the interplay between imitation and emulation in learning and innovation. The workshop hopes to conclude by defining creativity and innovation in a clearer light, which accounts for how these processes contribute to both language change and divergence, as well as the broader cognitive and cultural evolutionary context surrounding language.

For additional information regarding submissions to this workshop, please visit the organizer's site


Rhythm: Development, Evolution and Cognition

Andrea Ravignani,Artificial Intelligence Lab, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium

Sensory and Cognitive Ecology Group, Universität Rostock, Germany

Erin E. Hannon, Department of Psychology, University of Nevada, Las Vegas


We welcome contributions describing original research on the evolutionary origins of rhythm (see workshop description for details). Experimental and empirical contributions are particularly encouraged.

Short abstracts of max. 2 pages (including references) should be sent to with “Rhythm Workshop Submission” as subject. Confirmation of submission will be given. Abstracts should be submitted as .doc files following the standard Evolang format (templates available here).

Submission deadline: December, 31th 2015 (23:59 CET)

Notification of acceptance: January, 21st 2016 


Speech and music share a number of features. Notably, they both exhibit non-random structure over time. Perception and production of speech and music depend on the human sense of rhythm. How did a sense of rhythm for speech and music evolve in humans, how does it develop over the lifespan and how do human rhythmicity and rhythmic structure co-evolve?

The purpose of this workshop is to (i) provide a common platform for researchers from a range of fields to compare theoretical approaches and methodologies, (ii) discuss and integrate ideas and findings from evolutionary and cognitive approaches, (iii) develop critical and testable hypotheses that can shed light on fundamental questions about the evolution of language and music. 

Several short contributed talks and few invited plenaries will address a number of questions. Do the capacities to process linguistic and musical rhythms have a common evolutionary and/or developmental origin? To what extent do linguistic and musical rhythm processing overlap in the brain and mind? Do structural similarities in linguistic and musical rhythms rely on shared neural processing mechanisms? How can comparative research on human infants and non-human animals inform our understanding of rhythmicity in early hominids? Can research approaches that investigate the evolution of musical rhythm enlighten questions about the evolution of speech and vice-versa? Are there rhythmic universals in music and language and if so are they related? What is the role of culture in the (co-)evolution of rhythmic structure?

This workshop aims at bringing together researchers from a number of disciplines increasingly focusing on rhythm: phonology, child development, music cognition, animal behavior, comparative psychology, neuroscience, anthropology and archeology. Its intended audience and contributors hence include usual topics of interest in Evolang, additionally enlarging its scope and participants to the tightly related musical domain.

View the workshop schedule here (PDF).


Language adapts to interaction

Seán G. Roberts, Max Planck, Institute for Psycholinguistics

Gregory J. Mills, University of Groningen

Language has been shown to be adapted to constraints from many domains such as production, transmission, memory, processing and acquisition. These adaptations and constraints have formed the basis for theories of language evolution, but arguably the primary ecology of language is interaction – face-to-face conversation (Levinson, 2006). Taking turns at talk, repairing problems in communication and organising conversation into contingent sequences seem completely natural to us, but are in fact highly organised, tightly integrated systems (Sacks et al., 1974) which are not shared by any other species. Therefore, the infrastructure for interaction may provide an insight into the origins of our unique communicative abilities (Mills, 2014a; Micklos, 2014). Indeed, recent studies on interaction have shown that an approach that emphasises interaction can sharpen our understanding of linguistic universals (Kendrick et al., 2014; Dingemanse et al., 2015), ontogeny and acquisition (Hilbrink, et al. 2015; Vogt, 2014), online processing constraints (Bögels et al., 2015) and animal signaling (Levinson & Holler, 2014). The emerging picture is that the infrastructure for interaction is an evolutionary old requirement for the emergence of a complex linguistic system, and for a cooperative, cumulative culture more generally. These issues are also being integrated into computational models of the cultural evolution of linguistic systems (Vogt and Haasdijk, 2010; Roberts, & Levinson, 2015) and are being explored through studies of experimental semiotics (Mills, 2014b; Christensen et al., 2016).

This workshop is interested in addressing the following questions:

• How did the infrastructure for interaction emerge and how did it shape the emergence of language?

• What evidence is there that language structures show adaptation to interaction?

• How do interactional constraints interact with other domains such as processing?

• What are the limits of interactional abilities in non-human animals?

For additional information regarding submissions to this workshop, please visit the organizer's site



Neurogenetic Perspectives on the Evolution of Language

Madza Farias-Virgens

Dillon Niederhut

Terrence Deacon

Recent years have seen an explosion of research on the genetic differences between species with and without voluntary vocalizations, especially where those differences involve the functioning and development of related brain areas. This knowledge is thought to be critical for understanding what features differentiate human vocal behavior from the vocal behavior presented by other animals. Additionally, knowledge about the genetic infrastructure that supports human vocal behavior is thought to have the potential to both constrain the generation of hypotheses about how human language could have evolved, and to test those hypotheses against developmental and neurological data. This workshop aims to bring together researchers who are involved in the genetics, development, connectivity, and activity of language-related brain areas to discuss the power of the genetic approach to the study of human language evolution.

The Evolution of Speech

Tecumseh Fitch

Bart de Boer

Takeshi Nishimura

A traditional focus in studies of language evolution is the human vocal tract and its unusual descended larynx. For decades, following the seminal work of Philip Lieberman and colleagues, this feature of our species has been singled out as particularly relevant for the evolution of spoken language. Vocal anatomy has also played a prominent role in attempts to discern the linguistic abilities of extinct hominin ancestors. However, a variety of new data have surfaced, mostly based on analyses of living animals and their vocal production apparatus and abilities that suggest that the uniqueness and importance of human vocal anatomy has been over-stated. This workshop would involve an international roster of speakers who have worked on this issue, from multiple viewpoints, and will debate the relevance of these new data for traditional interpretations of the evolution of speech. Other, mostly neglected, aspects of vocal anatomy (such as the loss, in humans, of laryngeal air sacs) will also be discussed.