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Language and Human Evolution

Rolf Quam, Professor of Anthropology, Binghamton University

Part 1 - Monday, October 8, 2018

Part 2 - Monday, October 22, 2018

5:15-6:15 pm, LH 14


About the seminars


Part 1 - Language and the Archaeological Record

The evolution of language is one of the oldest questions in human evolutionary studies, and this symbolic form of communication is often held up as a uniquely human feature. Many attempts have been made to infer when language first appeared during the course of our evolution by examining the anatomical features of fossil human skeletons and through reading the archaeological record. In particular, anthropologists have tried to identify skeletal indicators of language ability or the presence of symbolic representations in the archaeological record. The present lecture will discuss the findings (or lack thereof) from several of these approaches and outline when language may have first emerged.


Part 2 - The Evolution of Language

The evolution of language is a multifaceted question and can be approached from a number of different, complementary perspectives. Some of the major questions include how did language first appear? Is there a single common "mother tongue" that gave rise to all living languages? How did we begin to make meaning out of meaningless sounds? How does language change and are there any "rules" for language change? The present lecture will discuss some of these questions and it is hoped offer a forum to stimulate discussion of this fascinating topic.


About the speaker

Rolf Quam is associate professor of anthropology at Binghamton University. He is a paleoanthropologist who specializes in the evolution of the Neandertals. One of his main research lines also examines the evolution of hearing and its relationship to language emergence. For the past 23 years, he has participated in the field excavations at the Pleistocene locality of Atapuerca, leading to the discovery of thousands of fossils of our human ancestors.

Last Updated: 12/9/19