When Darwin turned to apply his evolutionary framework to language (in Ch. 2 of The Descent of Man) he outlined a phylogenetic scenario that posits the emergence of different aspects of language in sequential order, under the influence of different selection pressures. At a crucial stage (sometimes labeled ‘musical protolanguage’; Fitch 2010), according to Darwin, emerged vocal imitation used in singing, which served “the expression of emotions like love, jealousy, and triumph”. This stage preceded the emergence of language as we know it. Darwin’s language evolution scenario thus ties together emotional expression, ‘musical cadences’ or singing, and meaningful speech. His idea seemed to be that some of the same capacities involved in learning and producing songs –specifically, emotional expression, flexible vocal production/imitation, and structural complexity – could, with the right selection pressures, have put our ancestors on the path to propositionally structured, meaningful speech.
Expression, Language, and Music will bring together researchers from linguistics, music theory, anthropology, neurobiology, cognitive science, philosophy, and more, with the aim of integrating recent findings and insights from diverse perspectives concerning, e.g. the significance of emotional expression for both music and language, the importance of systematic structure in both music and language, and the interrelations between expressive, musical, and communicative capacities and their relevance for understanding the emergence of language (in ontogeny and phylogeny).
Due to the present crisis, ELM** (Expression, Language and Music) 2020 is tentatively postponed till May 12-14, 2021. We are planning on keeping substantially the same program (including venue, etc.). Let us hope we are all healthy and safe and can convene in May 2021.
** Our friends at the other ELM (Experiments in Linguistic Meaning) working on postponing their conference to September. Their webpage is here.