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Language adapts to interaction

A workshop at the Evolution of Language conference (EvoLang XI) in New Orleans, USA. The primary ecology of language is interaction – face-to-face conversation. Therefore, the infrastructure for interaction may provide an insight into the origins of our unique communicative abilities. We invite papers which discuss the links between interaction and language evolution.

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Workshop at the Evolution of Language Conference (EvoLang XI)

21st March, 2016, New Orleans, USA

Organisers:  Seán Roberts and Gregory Mills

The proceedings are now online:

Visit the proceedings site


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), on-line processing constraints (Bögels et al., 2015) and animal signalling (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?


Where and when:
09:00-13:00 Mar 21, 2016
New Orleans

Street address
Wundtlaan 1
6525 XD Nijmegen
The Netherlands

Mailing address
P.O. Box 310
6500 AH Nijmegen
The Netherlands

Phone:   +31-24-3521911
Fax:        +31-24-3521213

Public Outreach Officer
Charlotte Horn