Tuesday, October 5, 2010

ISFC Plenary - Terrance Deacon

The 37th International Systemic Functional Congress was hosted by Geoff Williams at The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada in July 2010.

Unfortunately I was not able to attend the conference, as I was working. However, thanks to Geoff and the team at UBC, we can all see the videos of the plenary sessions, as well as downloading the presentations slides. (During the conference, they also set up chat rooms for remote participation in the sessions.)

I will add the plenary videos to this blog, one by one. The first is by a non-linguist (he's an anthropologist), and so a non-systemicist. However, what Terrance Deacon had to say about the evolution of language was music to the ears of people involved in systemic functional linguistics.

Terrance Deacon - Language and complexity: Evolution inside out
Talk given at 37th ISFC, UBC, Vancouver, 20 July 2010

In this fascinating talk, Deacon develops his thesis that humans are a Symbolic Species by noting that all species are effected genetically as they become domesticated. Domestication produces genetic 'degradation' in that many of the functions previously carried out instinctively become transmitted through our social ecosystems rather than through genetic transmission - what was instinctive becomes learned. He concludes by saying that even if God had come down and given homo erectus an innate language gene - or Universal Grammar - by now, as a result of domestication, that gene would have degraded.

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