Why Only Us: The Evolution of Language

Tuesday, March 15, 2016 - 4:00pm to Wednesday, March 16, 2016 - 3:55pm

Event Calendar Category

LIDS Seminar Series

Speaker Name

Robert Berwick



Building and Room Number



We are born crying, but those cries signal the first stirring of language. Within a year or so, infants master the sound system of their language; a few years after that, they are engaging in conversations. How did this remarkable, apparently species-specific, ability evolve?Like every great scientific mystery, the evolution of language poses a series of questions: What, Who, Where and When, How, and Why? In this talk we’ll review current evidence from modern linguistic theory, contemporary computer science, songbirds, neuroscience, and comparative genomics, to attempt to answer at least some of these questions.


Prof. Berwick and his research group investigate computation and cognition, including computational models of language acquisition, language processing, and language change, within the context of machine learning and statistical inference with both big data and small data, modern grammatical theory, and mathematical models of dynamical systems. A second line of inquiry is probing the biological and evolutionary underpinnings of human language, including models of language change as well as its biologically-grounded evolutionary origins.
Prof. Berwick has been the recipient of a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Award as well as the MIT Edgerton Faculty Achievement Award, MIT’s highest honor for junior faculty. He has also received an NSF Presidential Young Investigator Award. He helped found and run MIT’s Center for Biological and Computational Learning for more than 15 years.