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Nijmegen Lectures 2014 (January 27-29) -

Lecturer & Discussants

The Lecturer 2014 - Russell Gray

Professor Gray’s research has made significant contributions to the fields of linguistic and cultural evolution, animal cognition and the nature/nurture debate. He pioneered the application of computational evolutionary methods to questions about linguistic prehistory. This work has helped solve the 200 year-old debate on the origin of Indo-European languages, dubbed by Diamond and Bellwood (2003) as “the most recalcitrant problem in historical linguistics”. More recently, he used sophisticated computational methods to test hypotheses about the sequence and timing of the peopling of the Pacific. In collaboration with colleagues in Europe Professor Gray has extended this evolutionary approach to test hypotheses about the fundamental constraints on linguistic variation. In contrast to the claims of generative linguists, such as Chomsky, the analyses revealed striking language family specific dependencies, suggesting that cultural and linguistic processes trump innate cognitive constraints. His work with Dr Gavin Hunt on New Caledonian crows has revealed that their remarkable tool manufacturing skills are the product of a lengthy learning period and are underpinned by brains with large associative regions and the ability to make causal inferences. His research has attracted world-wide media attention including full page articles in The New York Times, Time and Le Monde and has featured on several international television documentaries. Professor Gray has been awarded a Hood Fellowship, a James Cook Fellowship, a Visiting Fellowship at All Soul College Oxford and the inaugural Mason Durie Medal for his pioneering contributions to social science. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand. He has published over 120 journal articles and book chapters including eight papers in the prestigious journals Nature and Science.

The Discussants of 27 January

Cecilia Heyes is Senior Research Fellow in Theoretical Life Sciences and Professor of Psychology at All Souls College, University of Oxford, and  Fellow of the British Academy. She studied psychology at University College London (1978–84), evolutionary biology and philosophy of mind as a Harkness Fellow in the United States (1984–6), and associative learning as a Research Fellow of Trinity Hall, University of Cambridge (1986–9). At UCL, she focused on experimental work for 20 years — initially in animal cognition and later in social cognitive neuroscience — and then in 2008 she moved to Oxford to become a theoretical psychologist. Her work examines the ways in which evolution, learning, developmental and cultural processes shape human cognition.

Katherine Cronin focuses her research on social cognition and social behavior in humans and nonhuman primates, taking an evolutionary and a psychological perspective. A central line of her work is the evolution of cooperative behavior and of the social structures that promote cooperative interactions. She studies a wide range of primate species, conducting research in laboratories, sanctuaries and zoos, and has recently developed a new field site for chimpanzee research in Zambia. She completed a degree in Zoology and a PhD in Psychology at the University of Wisconsin, and was a postdoc in endocrinology before joining the Comparative Cognitive Anthropology Group of the Max Planck Institutes for Psycholinguistics and Evolutionary Anthropology.


The Discussants of 28 January

Bart de Boer is a professor at the artificial intelligence lab of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and works on an ERC starting grant investigating the evolution of speech using both computer models and experiments. His research is on the evolution of physical as well as cognitive adaptations to speech. He has worked at the linguistics department of the University of Amsterdam on an NWO Vidi project on modeling evolution of speech, as an assistant professor in cognitive robotics at the AI department (Rijksuniversiteit Groningen) and as a postdoc at the University of Washington.

Harald Hammarström studied Computer Science and Linguistics at the University of Uppsala. He then went on to do a PhD in Computational Linguistics at Chalmers University (Gothenburg) focussing on computational models that can handle language diversity. As a postdocs at Radboud University Nijmegen and the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig Harald did fieldwork on Papuan languages and large-scale typological analysis of South American languages. He is currently working at the Max Planck Institute of Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen where he is engaged in empirical and computational approaches to linguistic diversity, genealogical/areal relationships, and language universals.


The Discussants of 29 January

Mónica Tamariz obtained her PhD in 2005 in Language Evolution and Computation at the University of Edinburgh, where she subsequently worked as a postdoc. After months in the psychology department of the University of Granada, she has recently taken up a teaching fellowship back at Edinburgh. Monica has investigated the effects of transmission and communicative interaction on the cultural evolution of languages. She is also interested in discerning what evolutionary processes explain changes in culturally transmitted information, for instance telling selection apart from neutral evolution or identifying sources of selective pressure.

Asifa Majid is Professor of language, communication and cultural cognition at the Centre for Language Studies, Radboud University Nijmegen. She investigates the nature of categories and concepts in language, in non-linguistic perception and cognition, and the relationship between them. She adopts a large-scale cross-cultural approach in order to establish which aspects of categorisation are fundamentally shared, and which language-specific. Majid’s work is interdisciplinary, combining standardised psychological methodology, in-depth linguistic studies and ethnographically-informed description. This coordinated approach has been used to study of domains such as space, event representation and more recently the language of perception.

Last checked 2017-04-07 by Martina Bernhard

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