Invited Symposia




Organized by Professor Tetsuro Matsuzawa 

Primate Research Institute of Kyoto University & President of The International Primatological Society 

Session Abstract: 

How might our cognitive abilities have been formed in current style? Human cognitive abilities are products of evolution as much as the body and social structure. In consequence, to answer the question, it is critical to study whether and to what extent such abilities are shared with other species. Especially chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and bonobos (Pan paniscus) are closest relatives to humans and thus are very important species to be examined. In order to explore and to understand their cognitive abilities as a whole, the collective efforts of researchers employing a variety of observational / experimental methods both in the lab and in the field are necessary. While the well-controlled studies in the lab would provide detailed understandings of targeted cognitive abilities, fieldworks would give great implications how these cognitive abilities may fit into their environments and thus evolved. These two approaches, therefore, compensate each other. From this perspective, in this symposium, we have three speakers. The first speaker, Dr. Ikuma Adachi, provides his recent studies from the lab on the cross-modal correspondences in chimpanzees and discusses his findings in a context of the language evolution. The second speaker, Dr. Misato Hayashi, talks about action grammar in tool-using behaviors in chimpanzees. She invented a unique method to code their tool-using behaviors to address the question. The third speaker, Dr. Shinya Yamamoto, reports his works on cooperative behaviors both in chimpanzees and bonobos. He conducts studies both in the lab and in the field and discusses the evolutionary origin of cooperation. Throughout these three talks, this symposium aims to encourage audience to perceive minds of chimpanzees and bonobos in a holistic manner and to facilitate discussion how our cognitive abilities and their cognitive abilities might evolve in response to the social and physical environment to Homo and Pan.



Ikuma Adachi (Primate Research Institute, Kyoto University): Primate origins of conceptual metaphors- Comparative cognitive approach to cross-modal correspondences 

Abstract: “High” vs “low  status”, “top of the heap”, “bottom of the barrel”: Similar expressions are widely observed across cultures and languages. The cross-modal correspondence between the visuospatial domain (e.g. high or low) and an abstract domain (e.g. rank) has been described as a conceptual metaphor, a linguistic construction, and therefore uniquely in human. A conceptual metaphor takes one concept and connects that to another concept to better understand that concept. The way we think and act is largely influenced by conceptual metaphors, even without being aware of them. The question remains if conceptual metaphorical mapping is indeed uniquely human or if it appears in other primates and thus describes a conceptual metaphorical mapping that predates language. To address this question, we examined if non-human primates have conceptual metaphors as we humans do. In this talk, I will present the latest findings and discuss primate origins of cross-modal correspondences.


Misato Hayashi (Primate Research Institute, Kyoto University): Studying cognitive development in wild chimpanzees by focusing on action grammar in tool-using behavior

Abstract: Cognitive development in primates including humans can be assessed through the analysis on object manipulation. Tool use is a form of object manipulation, thus, it enables us to assess cognitive development in wild chimpanzees. Nut-cracking behavior has the most complicated structure in terms of the combination among objects and only reported from some communities of wild chimpanzees in West Africa. Infant chimpanzees in Bossou, Guinea, begin to crack open nuts by appropriately combining multiple objects and actions from around 3.5 years of age. The precise analysis on the sequential patterns of each action from action-grammar perspective revealed that nut-cracking efficiency gradually increased after the first success. It took years for the juvenile chimpanzee to acquire the efficient skill of nut-cracking and reach to the level of proficient adults.


Shinya Yamamoto (Graduate School of Intercultural Studies, Kobe University): Evolutionary origin of cooperation: comparative cognitive study with chimpanzees and bonobos in the wild and captivities

Abstract: One of the hottest questions within the social and biological sciences revolves around the evolution of cooperation. However, we still know little of its proximate cognitive mechanisms. Here I introduce our recent studies on chimpanzees’ and bonobos’ prosocial behaviour both in the wild and in the laboratory. The experimental evidences suggest the importance of direct communicative interaction in the occurrence of chimpanzees’ helping. Chimpanzees understand what a partner needs; however, they rarely help others proactively without the partner’s request. Starting with this “helping upon request”, I’ll discuss the evolution of cooperation from the viewpoint of comparative cognitive science with our closest living relatives. Chimpanzees and bonobos are considered to have diverged very recently, around 1 million years ago, but show considerably different characteristics in their social behaviors. Investigation of these differences, in association with their societies and environments, will deepen our understanding of evolution in Pan and Homo.





Organized by ProfessoBernard H. Bichakjian (Radboud University, Nijmegen)


Andrew Feeney (University of Northumbria): Was there a proto-language of thought?

Abstract: Either humans think in the languages they speak or in another, unarticulated system. The former of these hypotheses leads inexorably to the notion of linguistic relativity, associated with Whorf (1956), and in particular the stronger version of linguistic determinism, wherein it is believed that the manner in which someone perceives the world is conditioned by the language they speak. This position has long been discredited. If there is an orthodox position now, it is that thought exists prior to its external expression, as Penn et al. note ‘the adaptive advantages of being able to rea-son in a relational fashion have a certain primacy over the communicative function of language’ (2008: 123). Moreover, as Schoenemann maintains ‘[symbols] for things must logically be applied to things that in some sense already exist in our own cognitive world. From an evolutionary per-spective, there would be no point to communication (and therefore language would not have evolved) if such cognitive categories did not already exist’ (1999: 319). The most coherent theory commensurate with this position is that advanced by Fodor (1975, 2008), that we think in a Lan-guage of Thought (LoT) or ‘mentalese’.  The evolution of hominins stretches back some 7.5 million years to our last common ancestor with chimpanzees, our closest extant relatives in the animal kingdom (Sun et al, 2012). Scrutiny of the data indicates that there were two periods of rapid evolutionary change, corresponding to stages of punctuated equilibrium (Gould and Eldredge, 1993). The first of these occurred approximately two million years ago with the speciation event of Homo, saw a doubling in the size, alongside some reorganisation, of hominin brains, and resulted in the first irrefutable evidence of cognitive behaviour that distinguishes the species from all others. Based on the premise that ‘there is a fun-damental duality in human reasoning’ (Frankish, 2009: 105) and the evolutionary rationale that owning two processing systems minimizes the effect that the brain has as an extremely expensive organ, I adopt the approach of dual processing theory in which modern humans are understood to possess two mental systems (Eagleman, 2011; Evans, 2010). System One is primitive, uncon-scious, fast and automatic; System Two evolutionarily more recent, conscious, slow and reflec-tive. The first period of significant evolutionary change in hominins resulted in a development of their cognitive capacity accompanied by a gestural, and subsequently vocal, protolanguage. The important question is whether this cognitive development involved the emergence of System Two processing and a proto-LoT. For reasons I will outline, I argue that early Homo, in particular H. erectus, while clearly the most intelligent animal to have inhabited the earth at the time, was still essentially characterised by the type of cognition evident in modern chimpanzees: System One.    


Adam Kendon (University College, London & University of Pennsylvania): The place of gesture in language origins theories: a critical evaluation

Abstract: In the eighteenth century, when the natural origin of language first came to be widely discussed, the idea that it might have begun as gesture was found attractive by a number of prominent thinkers. This idea continued to attract attention in the nineteenth century and after the revival of language origins discussions in the 1970s it again attracted strong support from prominent scholars. Arguments in favour of the idea have developed quite persuasively, drawing as they do upon studies of gesture in apes and their apparent language capacities in this modality, in language development in babies, work on emerging sign languages, and neurophysiology, including work on mirror neurones. However, no matter these diverse kinds of support, “gesture first” theories remain unable to explain the specialisation of humans as speaking animals. On the other hand, theories that take vocalisation as their starting point, which now can draw upon recent work that suggest that speech and monkey and ape vocalisations are less different from human speech than previously supposed, rarely take work on gesture into consideration, and do not offer any account of why it is integrated with speaking. In this paper we review the main evidence and arguments for the “gesture first” position, but conclude that a different model is needed. It must be recognised that “language” as it is today, is a complex marriage of several different capacities with different evolutionary histories. This marriage came about in stages over a very long period of time. “Language”, when it is conceived of purely in its spoken (even written) form (as it so often is in language origins discussions), is to be understood as the outcome of processes of specialisation and differentiation. Accounts of language origins need to be recast to become accounts of these processes of specialisation and diversification, accounts which show how these emerged and how these emerging systems are shaped through processes that involve social interaction as much as biology.


Bernard H. Bichakjian (Radboud University, Nijmegen): What language evolution tells us about the evolution of our potential for language

Abstract: The study of the evolution of the human potential for language has been vitiated by the assumption that humans are endowed with a Universal Grammar, i.e. a steady state set of instructions coded in our genome that with the proper environmental stimulation will produce the expression of natural grammars such as English, Swahili, or Quechua. When it is so conceived, language becomes a “package deal,” and the evolution of the potential for language becomes the single event whereby that “package” was allegedly acquired (cf. e.g., the hypotheses claiming that language was acquired as the larynx was lowered, or, from a different angle, as the computational mechanism of recursion  had been mastered). But there are no steady state grammars – the Universal Grammar is a myth. Languages are instruments of thought and communication and as such and especially as instruments of communication, they have evolved to become ever more efficient conveyers of information. Their evolution is like an iceberg – we only see the small emerging part, but the line of development is clear. Incipient speakers first cobbled a system based on their ancestral – simply    mammalian (?) – perception and tabulation of objects and actions in the outside world. In the subsequent phase, the improvised features were gradually replaced with alternatives especially conceived to serve linguistic purposes and do so with ever greater efficiency.  This process permeates the entire body of languages, but the most illustrative change is perhaps the shift from ergative/absolutive to nominative/accusative syntax, where the former pivotal elements are based on the perceptual notion of agency, the latter on the mental construct of grammatical subject. The course is clear and understandable. Incipient speakers could only bring to the task of building a language their ancestral competence, but the acquisition of language in turn stimulated mental processes which, when applied to language, contributed to its evolution. We know that that evolution, which is still ongoing, has been gradual. There is no reason to assume that the building of the original grammar, whereby incipient utterances achieved dual patterning and by so doing brought language to criterion, was other than gradual.


Jamie Carnie, A Generalist Account of the Evolution of Linguistic Meaning

Abstract: TBA




OrganizersAndy Lock (Massey University, New Zealand) and Chris Sinha (Hunan University, China) 

The motivation for this session is the growing recognition that ontogenetic development, as was proposed by many classical theorists of human development, was crucial for human evolution, including human symbolic evolution and the evolution of language.  We will invite four participants with known expertise in this area to discuss ontogeny and language evolution, requiring them to orient their presentations to one or more fundamental questions.

Questions to be considered by the speakers:

1.     What, if anything, can child prelinguistic and language development tell us about language evolution?

2.     What, if anything, can the comparative developmental study of gestural communication and social interaction in extant non-human primates tell us about language evolution?

3.     What, if any, effect did the evolution of the human life course have upon cognition, symbol use and language?

4.     If ontogenetic development can be considered a niche, does it make sense to speak of niche-niche co-evolution as well as organism-niche co-evolution



Heidi Lyn (University of Southern Mississippi): The Ubiquity of Gestural Comprehension

Abstract: It has been argued that the ability to comprehend gestures (most specifically pointing gestures) may be one of the revolutionary moments in the development of human language. This argument rests in large part on the findings that apes fail to comprehend human points (Moll and Tomasello, 2007) although many other species (such as dogs and dolphins) are perfectly capable of the task (e.g., Miklosi and Soproni, 2006; Pack and Herman, 2007). However, several studies have pointed to methodological differences as the largest driver of differential findings between apes and other animals in comprehension of declarative pointing (Mulcahy and Call, 2009; Lyn, 2010; Mulcahy and Hedge, 2012). In addition, a series of studies have suggested that exposure to humans is the most important variable in pointing comprehension abilities in apes (Lyn, et al., 2010a, 2010b). This is similar to recent findings in dogs and wolves, again supporting human interaction as the deciding variable in pointing comprehension (Udell et al., 2008, 2010, 2013). These findings beg the question – what is learned by exposure to humans? One suggestion is that it is ostensive cues that support gestural communication that are learned, however, preliminary data with apes support the idea that ostensive cues are basic - for example, simple extensions of an index finger without linguistic markers such as eye contact or gaze alteration do not result in gestural comprehension (Lyn et al., in prep). These linguistic actions serve functional purposes that seem to be the foundation for gestures to be communicative and may be much more widespread in the animal kingdom than has previously been assumed. I will suggest that rather than a misunderstanding of the communicative nature of a point, apes are failing to follow the linear and geometrical nature of the gesture. I will further argue that gestural communication, including point following, is likely a basic communicative interaction that is well within the capacities of many species, given the appropriate communicative environment and learning opportunities.


Ulf Liszkowski (Universität Hamburg): Limits, scopes, and origins of infant communication

Abstract: Infants’ communication is limited in several ways compared to adults. They have little if no systematic semantics, and rarely if never represent affairs through symbolic or depictive vehicles. Yet, infants communicate extensively with deictic gestures and, like adults, are very flexible at inferring and transmitting meaning based on social-cognitive and cooperative expectations which scale up to ‘theory-of-mind’ skills previously attested to 4-year-olds.  This new line of evidence, however, doesn’t lead to evolutionarily ancient traits of human communication, because new comparative results with chimpanzee reveal limits in their use of deictic communication, especially regarding social-cognitive and cooperative expectations.  The ontogenetic origins of infants’ communicative skills are seen in social-interactional experiences in the first year of life, as supported by further new experiments and cross-cultural comparisons.  


Hélène Cochet (Université de Toulouse II - Le Mirail): Hand preference for symbolic gestures and pointing gestures: Clues toward the understanding of language development

Abstract: Language acquisition involves a continuity between non-verbal and verbal communication: human children engage themselves in episodes of joint attention with adults through facial expressions, gestures, and vocalizations before they are able to use language. This is one of the reasons for which hand preference for communicative gestures has been regarded as a good predictor of hemispheric specialization for language, contrary to hand preference for manipulative actions (e.g., Meguerditchian et al., 2011). But the diversity of the human gestural repertoire may influence the relationship between hand preference for gestures and language, which has led us to take account of different types of gestures. Here I will present several studies focusing on the production of pointing gestures and symbolic gestures in young children and adults. We assessed hand preference for these different gestures and measured some morphological features (hand shapes, body posture). Our results suggest that communicative functions associated with gestures (e.g., imperative vs. declarative pointing) is a key factor in language development and in the emergence of hemispheric specialization for language. Our research may also have important implications for theories of language evolution, especially as several researchers have reported the existence of a right-sided asymmetry for communicative gestures in nonhuman primates. We therefore aim at highlighting the interest of studying gestural communication, by describing several characteristics of gestures and using similar methods across age groups and across species, in order to understand further the emergence of language, both within a developmental and an evolutionary framework.


Nathalie Gontier (University of Lisbon): Epistemic Pluralism and the evolution of communication

Abstract: Throughout the evolution of life we can find a consistent macro-evolutionary trend toward increasingly complex behavioral, cognitive and sociocultural repertoires that enable biological entities to interact meaningfully with the biotic and abiotic world, and one such type of meaningful interaction involves communication. From within the field of evolutionary epistemology, behavioral, cognitive and sociocultural skills are one the one hand understood as systems of knowledge that have evolved by means of evolutionary mechanisms; on the other hand, knowledge itself evolves according to evolutionary mechanisms. Communication systems in general, and languages in particular, are especially intriguing knowledge systems because they result from an intricate symbiosis between various behavioral, cognitive and sociocultural skills that on the one hand are phylogenetically evolved traits of biological organisms; and on the other hand transcend these organisms because many types of communication are expressed at or above a population level during ontogeny. Investigating the phylogeny and ontogeny of communication across species through time therefore requires an understanding of the co-evolutionary mechanisms that underlie this intricate symbiosis. Most of all, it requires a multi- and transdisciplinary research stance. In this talk, we detail how combining the units and levels of evolution debate and hierarchy theory with research on the nature and scope of the extended synthesis (especially eco-evo-devo) enable us to take on an epistemic pluralistic stance from wherein we can provide a rich understanding of the evolution of communication as well as its ontogenetic expression.