Sunday, September 7, 2008

Interdisciplinarity, Language Evolution, and a Fascinating Blog

Yesterday, on my blog The Goalie's Anxiety, I posted the following:

Near the end of her book "The First Word: The Search for the Origins of Language," Christine Kenneally writes the following:

"It's clear by now that the problem of language evolution is completely intractable when you approach it from the perspective of a single discipline. For all the salient questions to be answered, the multidisciplinary nature of the field will have to become even more so. So far, it has taken years for individuals in different departments to start talking, to develop research questions that make sense for more than one narrow line of inquiry, and to start talking, to develop research questions that make sense for more than one narrow line of inquiry, and to start to understand one another's points of view. The field of language evolution needs students who can synthesize information from neuroscience, psychology, computer modeling, genetics and linguistics. The more this happens, the richer and wider the field will become, instead of devolving around one or two theoretical issues."

The book as a whole is a fascinating exercise in just this kind of synthesizing, and the author is a prime example of someone who understands and relays information from a variety of fields.

In response, a blogger from Germany posted this, and I think he's right on:

I think you are precisely right in stressing the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration regarding the questions of language evolution and language origins given that it may very well be one of the "Hardest Problem[s] in Science" which requires the integration of data from at least "“psycholinguistics, linguistics, psychology, primatology, philosophy, anthropology, archaeology, biology, neuroscience, neuropsychology, neurophysiology, cognitive science, and computational linguistics” (Christiansen/Kirby 2003b: 2).

The most important thing is making students aware that the topic can be tackled by them but that they need to collaborate with other people to get further.

If you're interested in the topic, you might want to check out Edmund Blair Bolles' excellent blog "about the origins of speech", Babel's Dawn,

and the work of linguist Ray Jackendoff.

Take a look at his own blog, Shared Symbolic Storage, at


Grabloid said...

Great post, and I'll investigate those links. Also, that book is now very high on the list for me, it sounds fascinating. I agree with that comment...that an integrated/interdisciplinary approach has many advantages, but having a collaboration invites interdiscipline-arity (is that a word?) to an even greater extent.

Collaboration on the documentary film that I am working on has made it about 10 times as rich as it would've been had I been working on it alone...or with any single person directing, or 'in charge'. Our strongest traits and characteristics are in our diversity...the diversity grows exponentially...from the broadening of approaches (by virtue of having more than one person) to shooting with a camera, to interviewing, to storytelling, to editing tactics, to fund raising, designing, promoting, etc...

Collaborating inherently means compromising part an individual vision and articulation, but I think it also inherently means a more holistic, thorough, and profound project/analysis/product.