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Jean Nicod Prize & Lectures 2006

MICHAEL TOMASELLO

Origins of Human Communication


Short biography

PhD in Psychology in 1980 from University of Georgia (USA); taught at Emory University and worked at Yerkes Primate Center (USA) from 1980 to 1998; since 1998, Co-Director, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany. Research interests focus on processes of social cognition, social learning, and communication/language in human children and great apes.
 

Brochure ǀ Poster

 

Program

Monday May, 15th, 4 - 6 pm
CNRS, Campus Gérard-Mégie, Auditorium Marie Curie
3, rue Michel-Ange, 75794 Paris Cedex 16.

The intentional communication of great apes

Apes communicate with conspecifics most flexibly in the gestural domain, including adapting to the attentional state of the recipient. They use both intention movements (abbreviations of social actions that become communicative within a specific interactive context) and attention getters (actions that gain the attention of others to the self in a wide variety of contexts). All of these are basically dyadic - aimed at regulating the social interaction directly - not triadic in the sense of referring to external entities. They are also all basically "competitive" - aimed at getting the signaler what she wants - not co-operative in the sense of sharing psychological states. Interestingly, when interacting with humans many apes do learn to "point" to things they want triadically. But these "points" are action imperatives only; they are not co-operative in the human sense (and may not even be truly referential), as evidenced by the fact that these pointing apes still do not understand when humans point for them informatively.

Handout - Video

Michael Tomasello will be awarded the Jean-Nicod Prize after the lecture.

 

Tuesday May, 16th, 2:30 - 4:30 pm
Ecole Normale Supérieure, 45, rue d’Ulm, 75005 Paris (Salle Dussane)

The co-operative communication of human beings
 

In contrast to our nearest primate relatives, human beings communicate with one another co-operatively. This co-operative structure pervades all aspects of the communicative exchange. Thus, human communication depends fundamentally on: (1) a joint attentional (or intersubjective) frame that provides the common ground necessary for reference; (2) the mutual manifestness of the communicative act itself, which generates both relevance inferences and interpersonal obligations; (3) the co-operative motives to help and to share experience with others (even if embedded within a selfish, deceptive motive); and (4) the ability to collaborate with others in joint activities, specifically to ensure that the receiver comprehends the sender’s message as intended. The communicative activities of other animal species have little resembling this same co-operative structure. Human co-operative communication emanates evolutionarily from an adaptation for shared intentionality in general, as manifest in many other human cultural activities. Linguistic communication has this same co-operative structure, but adds, in addition, the perspective-taking inherent in contrastive linguistic symbols.

Handout - Video

Thursday May, 18th, 2:30 - 4:30 pm
Ecole Normale Supérieure, 45, rue d’Ulm, 75005 Paris (Salle Dussane)

The ontogenetic emergence of shared intentionality

The human adaptation for shared intentionality emerges ontogenetically at around the first birthday as two developmental pathways come together: (1) the general primate social-cognitive ability to understanding the goals and perceptions of others (and perhaps the intentions and attention of others); and (2) the uniquely human skills and motivations for sharing psychological states with others. As these two strands come together, human infants become able to create shared goals and intentions with others in joint action, and also to engage in various kinds of joint attentional activities, which create the ability to understand multiple perspectives on a common entity. The difference between humans and apes can be most clearly seen when their behavior is compared in situations involving helping (which do not involve full-blown shared intentionality, and in which they differ only a little) and situations involving true co-operation and shared intentions (in which they differ more profoundly). This same basic difference emerges when humans and apes are compared in the comprehension of communicative intentions (e.g., as expressed in both deictic and iconic gestures): human infants understand co-operative communicative intentions prelinguistically, whereas apes do not understand these at all - but rather understand the (social) intentions of others most readily in competition.

Handout - Video

Friday May, 19th, 2:30 - 4:30 pm
Ecole Normale Supérieure, 45, rue d’Ulm, 75005 Paris
(Salle Celan)

The ontogenetic emergence of co-operative communication

Infants begin expressing their communicative intentions also at around the first birthday. In addition to co-operative requests (expressions of desire that helpful others are supposed to respond to helpfully), infants also communicate prelinguistically for two other basic motives: (1) to help others by providing them with needed information (informing); and (2) to simply share interest and attention with others to outside events and activities declaratively. They also, on occasion, gesture for others iconically [deictic gestures being triadic analogues of ape attention-getters and iconic gestures being triadic analogues of ape intention movements]. A series of experiments suggests that these early communicative acts involve full-blown shared intentionality, including participation in joint attentional (intersubjective) frames with distinct perspectives, participation in joint activities with shared goals and intentions, and the comprehension of co-operative communicative intentions. Less certain is how infants acquire these skills (imitation? ritualization?), and whether infants’ comprehension of communicative intentions is fully Gricean (she intends that I know that she intends that we share attention to X). Studies of how infants acquire their earliest skills of linguistic communication in discourse help to resolve some of these outstanding issues.

Handout - Video

 

Bibliography

Published lectures : Origins Of Human Communication, MIT Press, 2010.

2004. BEYOND NATURE-NURTURE : ESSAYS IN HONOR OF ELIZABETH BATES
(ED. AVEC D. SLOBIN). MAHWAH (N.J.), LAWRENCE ERLBAUM.
2003. CONSTRUCTING A LANGUAGE : A USAGE-BASED THEORY OF LANGUAGE ACQUISITION. CAMBRIDGE (MASS.), HARVARD UNIVERSITY PRESS.
2003. THE NEW PSYCHOLOGY OF LANGUAGE, VOLUME 2 : COGNITIVE AND FUNCTIONAL APPROACHES TO LANGUAGE STRUCTURE. MAHWAH (N.J.), LAWRENCE ERLBAUM.
2001. LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT : THE ESSENTIAL READINGS (ED. AVEC E. BATES). OXFORD, BLACKWELL.
1999. THE CULTURAL ORIGINS OF HUMAN COGNITION. CAMBRIDGE (MASS.), HARVARD UNIVERSITY PRESS.
1998. (ED.) THE NEW PSYCHOLOGY OF LANGUAGE : COGNITIVE AND FUNCTIONAL APPROACHES TO LANGUAGE STRUCTURE. MAHWAH (N.J.), LAWRENCE ERLBAUM.
1997. PRIMATE COGNITION (AVEC J. CALL). OXFORD, OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS.
1995. BEYOND NAMES FOR THINGS : YOUNG CHILDREN’S ACQUISITION OF VERBS (ED. AVEC W. MERRIMAN). HILLSDALE (N.J.), LAWRENCE ERLBAUM.
1992. FIRST VERBS : A CASE STUDY OF EARLY GRAMMATICAL DEVELOPMENT. CAMBRIDGE, CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS.

 

 

 

Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique
(Département des Sciences de l’Homme et de la Société)

Ecole Normale Supérieure
Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales
 

 

 


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