Spring 2018 Lecture Series

The Biology and Evolution of Language: Continuity and Change | Tecumseh Fitch | February 13, 2018

Tuesday, February 13, 2018
CHEM 360
4:00 PM

The Biology and Evolution of Language: Continuity and Change

Dr. W. Tecumseh Fitch is an American evolutionary biologist and cognitive scientist at the University of Vienna, where he is co-founder of the Department of Cognitive Biology. Fitch's interests include bioacoustics and biolinguistics, specifically the evolution of speech, language and music. In this lecture, Fitch investigates human language viewed as a species-typical aspect of our biology, and attempts to understand it via comparison with other species' cognition and communication systems (the comparative approach). The first step in doing so is to break language down to its components (the multi-component approach) and then ask which components are shared with which other species (or not). Fitch presents evidence for continuity in speech perception, most aspects of speech production, and of human conceptual semantics with animal cognition, and evidence for discontinuity when it comes to organizing principles of syntax (hierarchical structure) and potentially some aspects of semantics (pragmatic, theory-of-mind based production). Fitch concludes that comparative research, guided by specific computational and mechanistic models deriving from linguistics and cognitive science, must play a central role in future attempts to understand language evolution.

CANCELED: Pedagogies of the Brain: Neuroeducation and the Adolescent Brain | Suparna Choudhury | February 22, 2018

Thursday, February 22, 2018
White Hall 110
4:00 PM

CANCELED: Pedagogies of the Brain: Neuroeducation and the Adolescent Brain

This event has been canceled. 


The field of "neuroeducation" has emerged in response to the drive for translational neuroscience simultaneously with a trend towards evidence-based education. Increasingly institutionalized through highly-funded multidisciplinary centers, programs, academic journals and books, neuroeducation brings together researchers and educators to try to create new pathways between scientific research and educational practice based on a rigorous 'learning science'. A key goal of this research agenda is to build effective strategies of education that improve academic achievement and social-emotional development of young people, reframing curricula in terms of research on the developing brain. These strategies are presented as science-based and make strong claims about what can be accomplished through programs that aim to capitalize on brain plasticity. Drawing on analysis of the scientific literature, qualitative interviews and participant observations in schools adopting neuroscience, Choudhury will discuss ways in which brain-based theories are taken up, the appeal to teachers and policy-makers and the scientific ambiguities that are inherent to this field.

Suparna Choudhury is an Assistant Professor at the Division of Social & Transcultural Psychiatry, McGill University and an Investigator at the Lady Davis Institute for Medical Research. She did her doctoral research in cognitive neuroscience at University College London, postdoctoral research in transcultural psychiatry at McGill and most recently directed an interdisciplinary research program on critical neuroscience and the developing brain at the Max Planck Institute for History of Science in Berlin. Her current work investigates the production and dissemination of biomedical knowledge -- in particular cognitive neuroscience -- that shapes the ways in which researchers, clinicians, patients and laypeople understand themselves, their mental health and their illness experiences. Dr Choudhury's research focuses primarily on the cases of the adolescent brain, cultural neuroscience and personalized genomic medicine.


Reflections on "The Long Shadow" in the Wake of Freddie Gray | Karl Alexander | March 5, 2018

Monday, March 5
White Hall 102
4:00 PM

Reflections on "The Long Shadow" in the Wake of Freddie Gray

The Long Shadow: Family Background, Disadvantaged Urban Youth and the Transition to Adulthood tells the story of the Baltimore-based Beginning School Study Youth Panel (BSSYP), a probability sample of typical urban children who came of age over the last decades of the 20th Century and into the first decade of the 21st. It is an account of their social mobility from origins to destinations, framed in life-course perspective. Two characteristic mobility paths are documented, both grounded in family resources: 1) status attainment through school serves mainly to preserve middle class privilege across generations; 2) status attainment in the non-college workforce privileges lower SES whites over African Americans of like background, white men most immediately through access to high wage employment in the remnants of Baltimore's old industrial economy and then, derivatively, to the lower SES white women who marry and partner with them.

Karl Alexander is Executive Director of the Thurgood Marshall Alliance. He retired from the Johns Hopkins University in 2014 after 42 years on the Sociology faculty, including 15 years as department chair. He presently holds appointments at Hopkins as the John Dewey Professor Emeritus of Sociology, Academy Professor, and, by courtesy, Professor in the School of Education.

Jointly sponsored by the CMBC and the Department of Sociology.

CANCLELED: "Bringing the Body (Back) to Speech Production and Perception | Bryan Gick | March 22, 2018

Thursday, March 22
White Hall 206
4:00 PM

CANCELED:  Bringing the Body (Back) to Speech Production and Perception

Thinking about the body in quite tangible terms was once a central part of modeling speech production. Joos's (1948) model of coarticulation was driven by overlapping waves of innervation in muscle activation patterns, while Cooper et al.'s. (1958), "action plans" described speech movements in terms of an inventory of muscle activations. Turvey et al. (1978), however, shifted focus away from neurophysiology, observing that these structures are formally equivalent to tasks in control space, since which time approaches to speech production have avoided detailed models of the body.

Meanwhile, discussions of speech perception - even motor-based theories - have explored little in the way of tangible body-based approaches. We have worked bring the body back into the discussion of both speech perception and speech production, with implications for theories of phonetics, phonology and speech learning.

Bryan Gick (Ph.D., Yale University 1999) is a Professor and Guggenheim Fellow in the Department of Linguistics at the University of British Columbia and a Senior Scientist at Haskins Laboratories.

Co-director of UBC Language Sciences, he also holds associate appointments in the School of Audiology and Speech Sciences, the Institute for Computing, Information and Cognitive Systems, and the Department of Psychology. The goal of Gick's work has been to bring the human body in all its complexity into discussions of speech and language. His recent research develops an embodied approach to speech, with the goal of deepening links between speech production and multimodal perception, biomechanics, motor control, the nervous system, the digestive system and the development of speech communication.