PhD Position: Open-ended robot interaction

We are looking for a highly motivated student with a major in Artificial Intelligence or Computer Science who has a strong interest in natural language modelling and symbolic computation. Your research project will be embedded in the Marie Curie ITN (Initial Training Network) project called ESSENCE (Evolution of Shared Semantics in Computational Environments).

For more information on this position and how to apply:

New book release: “The Talking Heads experiment: Origins of Words and Meanings”

We are glad to announce the release of the first book of the series Computational Models of Language Evolution.

The Talking Heads Experiment, conducted in the years 1999-2001, was the first large-scale experiment in which open populations of situated embodied agents created for the first time ever a new shared vocabulary by playing language games about real world scenes in front of them. The agents could teleport to different physical sites in the world through the Internet. Sites, in Antwerp, Brussels, Paris, Tokyo, London, Cambridge and several other locations were linked into the network. Humans could interact with the robotic agents either on site or remotely through the Internet and thus influence the evolving ontologies and languages of the artificial agents.

The present book describes in detail the motivation, the cognitive mechanisms used by the agents, the various installations of the Talking Heads, the experimental results that were obtained, and the interaction with humans. It also provides a perspective on what happened in the field after these initial groundbreaking experiments. The book is invaluable reading for anyone interested in the history of agent-based models of language evolution and the future of Artificial Intelligence.

You can find the open-source version of the book here:

BKL-CBL conference

Katrien Beuls and Remi van Trijp organize the annual BKL-CBL conference 2015 that will take place at the VUB the 8th of June. The topic of the conference is Computational Construction Grammar and Constructional change. Confirmed speakers include Graeme Trousdale, Luc Steels, Kristin Davidse, Peter Petré and Arie Verhagen.

Apart from the main conference, a tutorial on Fluid Construction Grammar will take place on the 7th and 9th of june.

Both conference and tutorial are free of charge.

You can find the details of the BKL-CBL conference and the tutorial on Fluid Construction Grammar on this link.

EVOLANG-X Birthday Party

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the EVOLANG conference and the 15th anniversary of the Talking Heads Experiment (the first large-scale experiment in synthetic language evolution), the ELA (Evolutionary Linguistics Association) organized a smashing party in Replugged (Vienna).

The ELA gave its Lifetime Achievement Award to Jim Hurford and Chris Knight, founding fathers of the EVOLANG conferences, for their major contributions to evolutionary linguistics. Previous award winners are Bernd Heine and Bill Croft.

The highlight of the evening was undoubtedly the musical performances. First, ACACIA EMERGENCY opened the act with a song about language evolution. After that, a TALKING HEADS cover band from Brussels, with Luc Steels as lead singer, took the main stage. You can enjoy a small clip, filmed by Simon Kirby, at this link.

International Summer School on Agent-based Computational Models of Creativity

15 – 20 September 2013, Cortona, Italy

The Evolutionary Linguistics Association (ELA) is proud to announce its second summer school in Cortona on Music and the Origins of Language. The school is intended for postdocs, lecturers and predocs with a background in computer science and a strong interest in music and the origins of language.

The summer school will be held in Cortona, Italy from Sunday 15 September to Friday 20 September 2013. Lectures, activities and meals are all collocated in Hotel Oasi and the Palazzone di Cortona. Participants will all stay at Hotel Oasi.

The summer school has a wide-ranging program of background lectures introducing concepts from biology, anthropology, psychology, music theory and linguistics that are helpful to understand the nature of creativity, the role and intimate relations between language and music, and the mechanisms underlying cultural evolution. It further contains technical lectures on the fundamental computational components required for language processing as well as technical ateliers to learn how to set up evolutionary linguistics experiments. Participants have the opportunity to present their latest research in a poster session. The school also features artistic ateliers in which participants create new creative works and engage in performance.

Interested researchers can apply by following the registration information that is available on the website. There are a limited number of scholarships available that cover participation and accommodation fees.

It receives support from FP7 PRAISE and INSIGHT projects, EUCog and the ESF project DRUST.

For information and queries, please visit the website or email

Agent-based language evolution experiments in PLOS ONE

Why do so many languages display grammatical agreement between particular linguistic units such as words or phrases? How did it result in the numerous varieties of agreement markers that we find today? A recent publication in PLOS ONE by Katrien Beuls and Luc Steels explores these questions by making use of agent-based models that simulate linguistic interactions in an open population of language users. It shows for the first time how grammaticalisation processes may occur and spread through a population. The open-access article can be read here:

Full reference:

Beuls, K., & Steels, L. (2013). Agent-Based Models of Strategies for the Emergence and Evolution of Grammatical Agreement. PLOS ONE8(3), e58960. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0058960.s001

Review of Experiments in Cultural Language Evolution

The Linguist List has recently published a review of the volume on Cultural Language Evolutionedited by Luc Steels. The reviewer, Nick Moore, highlights that “this book and other experiments by the same team provide empirical evidence
for the emergence of language based on evolutionary principles, on what we
currently understand about brain structure and organisation […] and, significantly, without the need for language-specific acquisition strategies”. The review can be consulted online through this link.