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Release: Sept. 6, 2001

UI visitor to speak on language and human brain Sept. 13

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- One of the nation's leading experts on language and the human brain will visit the University of Iowa Sept. 13-15 as an Ida Beam Distinguished Visiting Professor, sponsored by the psychology department in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Terrence Deacon, associate professor of biological anthropology at Boston University and a research associate in neuroscience at McLean Hospital/Harvard Medical School, will deliver a free public lecture and conduct a colloquium while he is on campus.

His lecture, "What's So Different about Human Brains? An Ape Brain Modified for Language," will be Thursday, Sept. 13 at 7: 30 p.m. in Lecture Room 2 Van Allen Hall. He will discuss the unusual features of human brains, as compared with primate brains, and whether these are evolutionary clues to humans' higher cognitive powers.

"Without doubt, our most unusual behavioral-cognitive capacity is our predisposition for language," Deacon says. "And anyone can tell you that what is most different about the human brain is its large size. However, the relationship between the two turns out to be remarkably subtle and complex."

In the colloquium, "Beneath linguistics: Language as a complex coevolutionary phenomenon," Deacon will discuss more technical aspects of the brain's capacity for symbolic thought and language, and why other species have not developed language. This presentation will be Friday, Sept. 14 at 3:30 p.m. in Room 70 Van Allen Hall.

Deacon's 1997 book "The Symbolic Species: The Coevolution of Language and the Brain" generated great interest in disciplines as wide-ranging as psychology, linguistics, computer science, philosophy, speech and communication studies, neuroscience and biological anthropology, and has had considerable impact on thinking about the nature and biological origins of language. It has been described as the single best book to read on the evolution and function of the human brain. Deacon's work represents the best of interdisciplinary research and addresses issues that are fundamental to understanding what it is to use language and to be human.

Deacon's visit to the UI is co-sponsored by the anthropology, linguistics, and speech pathology and audiology departments in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Deacon's activities at the UI are supported by the Ida Cordelia Beam Distinguished Visiting Professorships Program, which brings outstanding scholars to the UI campus for residencies ranging from a few days to an entire academic year. A native of Vinton, Iowa, Beam willed her farm to the UI in 1977. Proceeds from the sale of the farm were used to establish the visiting professorships program in her name. Since 1977, hundreds of eminent scholars and scientists have visited the UI campus to give public lectures and to meet with students and faculty.