headshot of Dr. Shelby Putt
Dr. Shelby Putt

Dr. Shelby Putt an assistant professor of anthropology at Illinois State University, will deliver a presentation as part of the Research Series from the Department of Sociology and Anthropology. The talk, titled “Combining tools and combining words: An evolutionary history of hierarchical cognition,” will be at noon Friday, March 19, via Zoom.

Putt will discuss how and when human language evolved into the forms that we use in modern day. This event is free and open to the public.

 A crucial design feature of language is the ability to combine meaningless units to form a new unit with meaning (combinatoriality) and to further combine these meaningful units into a novel, larger meaningful unit (compositionality). In this talk, Putt will demonstrate that this feature of language can also be applied to tool use because both behaviors rely on the same general cognitive features. Determining when during human evolution these cognitive features emerged for organizing tool use behaviors may therefore help pinpoint when language became the primary system of communication for our human ancestors.

Putt is a biological anthropologist whose research program combines functional neuroimaging technology (fNIRS and fMRI) with the fossil and archaeological record to investigate the evolution of human language, cognition, and brain size. Other research interests include stone tool use and manufacture, experimental archaeology, working memory, laterality, locomotion, comparative primate behavior, and social transmission/learning of skill-based behaviors.

To access the event, use the Zoom ID: 922 4357 9994 and passcode LANGUAGE. For additional information, contact the Department of Sociology and Anthropology.