CONTACT: MARY GERAGHTY KENYON
300 Plaza Centre One
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 384-0011; fax (319) 384-0024
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.