"Our research aims to contribute to answering questions such as: How did language emerge? What was the relation between the original systems of prelinguistic visual and vocal communication?"
In Conversation with Research Alumnus Professor Sławomir Wacewicz, Head of Centre for Language Evolution Studies, NCU Toruń and Director of IMSErt: EVO research group at Nicolaus Copernicus University, Poland
I spent a fantastic and very productive six monthsin Tübingen last year (February - July 2019), following a kind invitation from Professor Gerhard Jäger, who heads the Chair of General Linguistics, University of Tübingen. During these six months, I was a NAWA Bekker fellow (funded by the Polish National Agency for Academic Exchange – PPN/BEK/2018/1/00382/U), working on my project “Why speak politely? The evolutionary stability of expressions of gratitude”.
I work at the Faculty of Humanities, Nicolaus Copernicus University in Torun, Poland, where I am a co-founder and current head of the Center for Language Evolution Studies (CLES NCU). My lab is also part of the IMSErt (Interacting minds, societies, environments) Center of Excellence at NCU Torun. My research, as well as that of CLES NCU more generally, is on language origins and language evolution, but we also do evolutionarily inspired research on a wide range of linguistic phenomena such as politeness, CMC, sound symbolism, gesture, and sign language. Our research aims to contribute to answering questions such as: How did language emerge? What was the relation between the original systems of prelinguistic visual and vocal communication? What is the relation between language and cooperation?
This breadth is illustrated by my two most recent co-authored publications: a paper on pantomime as a likely original communicative system in our prelinguistic ancestors, and another paper on slight differences in the shape of the eyes between women and men. This last topic is particularly interesting to me, and originates in a little known theory of “the cooperative eye” proposed by Michael Tomasello and collaborators. Unlike most other animals, humans have slightly elongated, almond-shaped eyes with conspicuously white scleras (“whites” of the eyes), and such anatomy makes it much easier to follow the gaze of other human beings. This in turn profoundly changes social relations, and in particular greatly helps successful non-verbal communication.
Center for Language Evolution Studies (CLES)
Nicolaus Copernicus University in Torun