Centre for Language Evolution Studies

Kontakt Faculty of Languages
Collegium Maius, Room 26,
ul. Fosa Staromiejska 3, 87-100 Toruń

Evolutionary Inspirations in Language Studies

An event of CLES and the Department of English, NCU

6 APRIL 2017 – 12:00-17:45 – Coll. Hum. Bojarskiego 1 87-100 Torun

Secretary: Julia Trzeciakowska

Room AB0.07
12:00 – Monika Boruta, Marek Placiński (NCU, Dept. of English) – The syntax of pantomime – a pilot study
A portion of recent studies on language evolution has concentrated on the notion of natural word order, a hypothesis claiming that word order is fixed among users of language (Dryer, 2005; Pagel, 2009; Gell-Mann & Ruhlen, 2011). Studies on gesture and sign language constitute a substantiation for this claim. The idea for this hypothesis originated in Goldin-Meadow et al.’s research (2008). Literature shows that participants of experiments gestured mainly SOV word order for events including an animate actor and an inanimate one, whereas SVO for events involving two actors, both of whom were animate (e.g. Goldin-Meadow et al. 2008, Gibson et al. 2013, Hall et al. 2013). These results were independent of the participants’ native language. The aim of the research will be to identify the syntactic pattern of re-enactmets of events by Polish native speakers.

12:25 – Natalia Pałka (NCU, Dept. of English) – The influence of prosody on the perception utterances as impolite – a statistical analysis
Until recently impoliteness has been treated as marginal (Leech 1983) and insignificant issue in linguistics, assumed to be rarely observed in human interaction. In this presentation we intend to discuss the results of an empirical study, which was conducted at Nicolaus Copernicus University. Notably, to the area of linguistic impoliteness, which has been given the least attention so far – the perception of impoliteness. The findings indicate that there is a strong tendency to perceive utterances with relatively lower pitch and falling intonation applied as impolite. Bearing in mind that there is relatively little research on how people perceive the auditory aspects of impoliteness, the findings presented may be a valuable source of knowledge about the nature of language.

12:50 – Daniel Karczynski (NCU, Dept. of English) – Evolutionary psychology and male speech habits: Are men prone to bullshiting?

13:15 – Przemysław Żywiczyński, Sławomir Wacewicz (NCU, Dept. of English) – Self-touching and gesticulations. An eye-tracking study.
Self-touching behaviors – such as scratching one’s cheek or rubbing one’s nose – are typically accounted for in terms of self-regulation (e.g. coping with negative affect or disruptions of attention), but there are also lines of research indicating that self-touching plays a supportive role in the dynamics of face-to-face interaction. Although self-touching behaviors are extremely common in face-to-face interaction, little is known about the perception of these movements and the degree to which they attract visual attention. In this paper, we report an eye-tracking study on the perception of self-touches, in which 27 subjects saw a videorecording of an actor performing posed discrete self-touching behaviors while narrating a story. We compared the proportion of visual attention allocated to self-touches, gesticulations and the face, measured in terms of relative dwell time and average fixation duration. While the face was the most fixated area, self-touching activity attracted significantly more attention than gesticulations. We offer several interpretations of this result, including those underscoring the informative-interactional potential of self-touches.

13:40 – Maciej Pokornowski (NCU, Dept. of English) – How the intrinsic properties of Twitter hashtags impact their fitness.
Since its launch in 2006, Twitter has developed into one of the largest contemporary internet services in terms of user base and the volume of data generated on a daily basis. As the platform evolved, its users created a means for marking tweets that belong to the same topic: hashtags. Since the generation of hashtags is virtually unconstrained, alternative forms of tags tend to emerge that refer to a common theme, but only a subset of those reach high popularity. This study aims at discovering what are the intrinsic properties of hashtags that may contribute to either an increase or decrease in the replicative success of tags. In an analysis of a corpus comprising of nearly 4 million tweets relating to a common topic of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), this study shows that there are certain features that correlate with increased fitness of hashtags and that competing replicators exhibit different fitness strategies for maximizing their replicative success. These findings may contribute to areas such as marketing, political campaigning, hashtag recommendation systems and further research in language evolution.

Lunch Break (own arrangements) 14:15 – 15:00

Room AB.1.08
15:00 – Francesco Ferretti (Roma Tre) – Pantomime, narrative and the origin of language

16:00 – Dariusz Kalociński (University of Warsaw) – Social Impact and Cognitive Simplicity in Semantic Alignment
The semantic alignment model proposed in [1] focuses on how social and cognitive pressures might affect the interpretative choices of agents playing simple language games. The model assumes that each agent, after observing how others use the expression in situations from the present context, aligns by selecting the cognitively simplest hypothesis guaranteeing maximal agreement with the observed data (weighted by social impact). Our aim is to test predictions of this model through laboratory experiments with human participants [2]. We present preliminary ideas concerning the overall experimental design. The hypothesis space consists of all crisp categories over a given set of features with a fixed amount of values. Categories come with a fairly straightforward measure of simplicity – boolean complexity [3]. Dyads are supposed to play several rounds of the semiotic coordination game. In a single round players see a few stimuli. Each player labels the stimuli using two signals (Y/N). The ultimate goal of the game is to respond with the same signals to the same stimuli which actually amounts to agreeing upon the same category.
[1] Kalociński, D., Gierasimczuk N., & Mostowski M.. (2015). Quantifier Learning: An Agent-based Coordination Model. In Proceedings of the 2015 International Conference on Autonomous Agents and Multiagent Systems (AAMAS ’15). International Foundation for Autonomous Agents and Multiagent Systems, Richland, SC, 1853-1854.
[2] Galantucci, B., Garrod, S., & Roberts, G. (2012). Experimental semiotics. Language and Linguistics Compass, 6(8), 477-493.
[3] Feldman, J. (2000). Minimization of Boolean complexity in human concept learning. Nature, 407(6804), 630-633.

Coffee Break 16:30 – 16:45

16:45 – Roland Mühlenbernd (University of Tübingen) – Pragmatics and language evolution – A game-theoretic perspective
In my talk, I will discuss the idea that instances of linguistic politeness, such as polite requests, serves essentially as a communicative strategy for resolving or at least moderating situations of non-aligned interests between interlocutors. I will present a particular hypothesis about the functions of linguistic politeness providing a mechanisms that leads to evolutionary stability as a signaling strategy in partially aligned situations: the handicap principle (cf. van Rooy 2003). Finally, I will present arguments for and against the handicap principle being a good evolutionary explanation for linguistic politeness and discuss further conjectures about how polite request might lead to stability of signaling strategies in partially aligned situations.