Marie Montant

Marie Montant
pas labex
pas Eurias

dates de séjour

01/09/2021 - 15/03/2022


Sciences du langage et linguistique
Neurosciences et sciences cognitives

Fonction d’origine

Maître de conférences

Institution d’origine

Aix-Marseille Université

pays d'origine


projet de recherche

Language evolution from a non-anthropocentric perspective: a transdisciplinary approach for a new paradigm

In cognitive sciences, human language evolution is often addressed from a strictly humancentered perspective. That is, most studies in cognitive psychology and neurosciences that compare human to non-human animals focus on specific human cognitive components (e.g. syntax) or human neuroanatomical structures (e.g. the depth of a particular sulcus). Unsurprisingly, these human components and structures are either underdeveloped or missing in non-human animals. These absent or poorly developed properties are classically considered as partially responsible for the difference in complexity between human language and other animal communication systems, and are presented as potential “human-unique” features (the so-called “human uniqueness”). 


A major caveat in human-centered comparisons consists in assuming (non-explicitly) that nonhuman cognitive architectures must resemble human cognitive architecture, in parts or as a whole. Such an assumption could hold: 1) if human and nonhuman cognitive architectures had followed similar evolutionary paths and were adapted to comparable environmental, social and biological constraints, and 2) if the cognitive architecture of each species was a construction made of independent (non-interacting) cognitive components that are not sensitive to developmental and phylogenic interactive factors.


Given that every species has a unique history leading to a unique cognitive architecture, it seems like a vain enterprise to search for humanspecific components in nonhuman animals. Similarly, trying to prove the absence of humanspecific components in nonhuman architectures does not make much sense either. Because it is no longer sustainable to consider humans as the normative species to which non-human animals should be compared, I would like to develop an alternative paradigm. To specify this paradigm, I suggest two lines of research. 


First, I propose to examine the background of the human language function, namely the inherited domain-general elements of “the machinery required to master human language” (Saffran and Thiessen, 2008), that we share with other species, in particular primates. Second, I propose to investigate the nature of complexity in the communication systems of distant species (like cetaceans) by looking at their Umwelten and Umgebung (von Uexküll, 1956).