Coppola Colloquium

February 19
Neubauer Collegium (5701 S Woodlawn, 1st floor)
University of Connecticut
Unexpected routes to language: Evidence from child and adult homesign systems
Many trajectories of emerging language systems assume the development of a conventional lexicon as a starting point, subsequent development of morphological and syntactic structure, and the possibility of never developing relatively more arbitrary structure such as phonology. I will discuss three types of recent evidence from child and adult homesign systems, comparing them with early cohorts of signers of an emerging language which do benefit from a linguistic model and a linguistic community. 1) At the lexical level, a fully connected social network, vs. one in which all individuals do not interact with each other, hastens conventionalization of lexical items. 2) The emergence of morphophonological contrasts (in terms of the distribution of complexity of finger configurations) precedes morphosyntactic oppositions (in terms of the mapping of handshape type to the presence/absence of an agent) in both child and adult homesign systems. Finally, I will discuss how the absence of a language model and linguistic community has a negative impact on narrative abilities in people who are cognitively mature and have extensive life experience. Taken together, these results suggest that the progression of linguistic organization at various levels interacts with the presence of a language model, interaction within the context of a linguistic community, as well as the structure of interactions between and among users.