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The Syntax of Mind: An International Conference - a retrospective.

A fundamental and recurring question in cognitive science concerns the modularity of mind: to what degree are computations and the representations they operate upon encapsulated to particular cognitive domains such as language, vision, music or action?  An equally fundamental question for cognitive biology concerns species-specificity: what aspects of cognition in a species rely on species-specific versus clade-general computations?
In the past decade, major progress has been made in exploring both of these issues, much of it relying upon artificial grammar learning and related paradigms.  Current results suggest that certain computational processes are shared, at least between language and music, and thus constitute integrating "horizontal" or cross-domain aspects of human cognition.  While broadly characterized as "hierarchical processing" or "syntax", they include phenomena in a variety of subdomains including phonology and rhythm.  However, the picture remains murky with respect to nonhuman animals, with little evidence of human-like skills in other primates, but increasing evidence for repeated convergent evolution of analogous traits in birds and marine mammals.  

This conference provided a state-of-the-art update on this fast-moving field, and focussed on overlaps between evolution of spoken language and music, research employing artificial grammar learning, and comparative work in these areas with a wide range of animal species.

Prizes for best talk and best poster were awarded. The awards were presented to the winners at the after-conference party in the Natural History Museum Vienna.

The conference took place in Vienna April 17-19, over the Easter holiday, immediately following the International Evolution of Language Conference in Vienna. 


Thursday 17.04.2014 

14:30 Registration

15:00 Introduction

15:30 Kazuo Okanoya "Extraction and construction of rules in birds and humans"

16:30 Talk session

17:30 Round table: Evolution of music and language

19:00 End 

Wine reception

Friday 18.04.2014

Syntax of Music & Language

09:00 Christophe Pallier "In search of the cerebral representations of syntactic structures"

10:00 Talk session

10:30 Poster quickies

11:00 Stefan Koelsch "Cognitive principles underlying syntactic processing"

12:00 - 13:00 Lunch break and posters

Learning & Development

13:00 Simon Kirby "The cultural origins of structure"

14:00 Talk session

15:30 Break

15:45 Talk session

17:15 Sandra Trehub "Musical Beginnings"

18:15 End

19:00 Get together at Natural History Museum Vienna

Saturday 19.04.2014

Artificial Grammar

09:00 Julia Udden "The neurobiology of structured sequence processing vs. non-sequential conceptual structure in artificial and natural language"

10:00 Talk session

11:00 Break

11:15 Talk session

12:30 Summary: "Where do we go from here?"

13:00 End



The conference was hosted and introduced by Prof. W. Tecumseh Fitch (Department of Cognitive Biology, University of Vienna)

Univ.-Prof. Dr. William Tecumseh Fitch

Department of Cognitive Biology
University of Vienna
Althanstrasse 14
A-1090 Vienna

T: +43-1-4277-76111
F: +43-1-4277-9761
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