Institut Jean Nicod

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Cycle de Conférences LINGUAE 2015

Didier Demolin
Professeur des Universités -
Laboratoire de Phonétique et de Phonologie, Université Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris 3



Mercredi 2 décembre 2015 11h30 à 13h dans le cadre du séminaire LANGAGE. ENS, 29, rue d'Ulm, Salle Langevin.

Grammatical structures in animal communication and the evolution of language

Comparative animal studies represent an approach to understand the evolution of phonological and syntactic features of human language. Phonology, where words are made from meaningless sounds, is considered a simpler level of combination when compared to syntax. Sound combination in animal communication raises important questions about the relevance of grammatical structures in animal communication. Recent findings in ape and monkey vocalizations showed the presence of syntactic features and therefore of grammatical structures. This is also true for several bird species. These findings open speculations about the presence, at least for apes and monkeys, of semantics in their vocalizations. They also lead us to know what is the best way to formalize these systems. The recent findings in monkey’s and bird’s systems lead us to question the uniqueness of human language among primate systems of communication in exhibiting syntax and recursion. The capacity to produce recursive, self-embedded grammars is therefore not uniquely human. These findings suggest that some essential mental processes that make human language are shared with other species.

Vendredi 4 décembre 2015 de 11h30 à 13h30 dans le cadre du colloquium de l'Institut Nicod. ENS, 29, rue d'Ulm, Salle Prestige 1.

Dynamics and diversity of sound systems in human languages

Human language’s sound systems (phonetics and phonology) incorporate many dimensions: biological, physical and cognitive. As time and coordination of elements play a crucial role, this leads to evaluate the behavior of these systems as dynamic and complex. The dynamic aspects are highlighted by processing sound change in the same way that the physical concept of multistationarity in physics and cellular differentiation in biology. When the mechanisms that are the source of phonetic changes are implemented and categorized they can be regarded as state changes. The inherent variability of speech is the source from which sound change emerges. The propagation of changes in phonological systems (considered as population units) may be considered with the logistic equation that can describe the dynamic behavior of phonological systems. Sources of variability of human languages sound systems are rarely considered. Yet they are one reason for the diversity of sound systems of human languages. The interaction with non-linguistic factors and processes shed light on some observable patterns of phonetic and phonological diversity.

Mardi 8 décembre 2015 de 11h30 à 14h dans le cadre du colloquium du département d'études cognitives. ENS, 29, rue d'Ulm, Salle Langevin.

Syntactic structures and organization in music from the perspective of oral tradition musical systems

The study of oral tradition of music permits discussing the question of the organization of musical syntax and reference systems in an interesting way. These musical systems are sometimes acquired without explicit teaching, as Pygmies polyphonies from Central Africa. When more explicit they are often based on non-verbalized knowledge. The organization of African polyphonies is based on a few simple principles to constantly renew the musical discourse and to create a very complex musical structure. The principles of simple melodic and rhythmic variations (swap intervals or changing the internal structure or rhythmic cells) are used to build a musical discourse of great complexity and which seems, at first sight, largely self-organized. The presence of similar musical structures in different places of the world, e.g. Hoquetus in polyphonic music, raises the question of universals in music. The musical scales taken outside of constructed systems pose the issue of possible auditory constraints.