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Origins of Syntax Conference

Conference Poster

Origins of Syntax Conference, December 12th-13th 2023

The origin of syntactic structure has been a topic of contention in research on the evolution of language. In recent years, proponents of Chomskyan and non-Chomskyan views have disagreed about whether syntactic structure is learned or unlearned; the product of gradualistic or saltational evolution processes; and about whether syntactic abilities are a product of natural selection for better communication, or for other cognitive processes. While both sides have agreed that syntax is likely to be uniquely human, comparative psychologists have also produced new evidence of combinatorial capacities in the communication of non-human species. However, it remains controversial whether this evidence meets the criteria for hierarchically structured syntax that have been proposed by linguists and philosophers; and consequently whether animal combinations count as evolutionary precursors of human syntax.

In this interdisciplinary conference, we bring together philosophers, comparative psychologists, and cognitive scientists from a range of disciplines to discuss their recent work on the ontogenetic and phylogenetic origins of syntax, in order to make progress in our understanding of these fundamental issues.

The Origins of Syntax conference is organised by the UKRI-funded Communicative Mind research group. It will take place at the University of Warwick on December 12th and 13th December 2023. In person attendance is free, although you are requested to register in advance because capacity is limited. To register, please contact

Online attendance will also be possible.

Confirmed speakers:

Nick Chater (University of Warwick)

Cas Coopmans (Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics)

Cathy Crockford (ISC Marc Jeannerod)

Olga Feher (University of Warwick)

Richard Moore (University of Warwick)

Nirmalangshu Mukherji (Delhi University)

Ross Pain (University of Bristol)

Giulia Palazzolo (University of Warwick)

Ronald Planer (University of Wollongong)

Ljiljana Progovac (Wayne State University)

Simon W. Townsend (University of Warwick and University of Zurich)