LingLang Lunch (4/12/2017): Annemarie Kocab (Harvard)

Annemarie Kocab’s research mainly focuses on how humans create and acquire languages, studying the emerging language Nicaraguan Sign Language as well as using language creation paradigms in the lab. For more information, a brief write-up of her is here on the Snedeker Lab website.

Language Emergence: Evidence from Nicaraguan Sign Language

While every human society has a language, no other animal has a communication system with this scope and complexity, and no other animal can acquire such a system as readily as we do. A central challenge for cognitive science is to discover where language comes from and what properties of human minds and communities allow for its creation. Recently, the study of emerging sign languages, such as Nicaraguan Sign Language (NSL), has allowed us to gain traction on this question. In this talk, I present evidence from two lines of work, one looking at what semantic relations a new language is able to express, using temporal language as a case study, and the other looking at what properties are evident in a new language, focusing on recursion.
NSL is a new language that has emerged over the past 30 years in a community of deaf Nicaraguans. Before the 1970s, deaf individuals had little contact with each other and there was no commonly used sign language. In the late 1970s, the government opened new schools for special and vocational education. For the first time, deaf Nicaraguan children and adolescents gathered together and began to communicate through gestures. A new sign language emerged and continues to develop to this day.