Workshop on Lenneberg

On the occasion of the 50th aniversary of Eric Lenneberg’s Biological Foundations of Language, a workshop will be held at the University of Barcelona, on September 29, 2017, including talks by Tecumseh Fitch (University of Vienna) and Angela Friederici (Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Leipzig).


The study of language as a biological capacity started taking shape in the second half of the 20th century. Among several other developments that contributed to it, one deserves special attention: the publication of Eric Lenneberg’s *Biological Foundations of Language*, exactly 50 years ago. This work contains some of the most important insights on language as a biological capacity. At the time, while the generativist tradition, namely through Chomsky’s work, highlighted some important, basic facts about language (e.g. its creative aspect), Lenneberg’s approach departed from abstract matters, and delved quite precociously into concrete considerations on biological aspects such as development, maturation, and how to interpret the role of the genes. In fact, upon close analysis it becomes clear that many of Lenneberg’s insights at the time are much more aligned with modern evolutionary biology than some of the current views on language that are considered “biologically-informed”, and which dominate mainstream linguistics.

This 50-year anniversary is a perfect opportunity to look back and discuss the relevancy of Lenneberg’s work in the language sciences, by both looking at its historical significance and ways in which it is echoed in contemporary approaches to the biology of language.

The goal of this workshop is to offer a fresh look at this classic, and reassess its historical importance for the 21st century. We invite researchers from any field concerned with the biology of language who are interested in its history to present their contributions to this discussion.

Invited speakers

Tecumseh Fitch is Professor of Cognitive Biology at the University of Vienna. He is trained as a biologist and cognitive scientist, and is an expert in acoustic communication in vertebrates. He performs experimental work with species including humans, fish, birds, reptiles and mammals, and works in both the lab and the field. His work in biolinguistics and biomusicology has focused on the evolution of human speech, music and language, using the comparative approach to determine which mechanisms underlying these human faculties are shared with other species. Website

Angela Friederici is the Director of the Department of Neuropsychology at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig. She is a world-renowned expert on language processing and representation. Her extensive experimental work has led to important hypotheses about species-specific brain differences being at the core of the human capacity for language. Website


9:00—10:30: The neural basis of language as an uniquely human trait (Angela Friederici)

11:00—12:30: What would Lenneberg think?: Biolinguistics in the third millennium (Tecumseh Fitch)

12:30—13:00: Open Round Table

Attendance & Venue

The workshop will take place at Can Jaumandreu – UB Parc de les Humanitats i les Ciències Socials. Metro line L1 (red) is the best way to get there (short walk from the Glòries stop).



Registration is open until September 15, 2017. If you are already registered for Protolang 5, registration is free. Otherwise, there is a small fee (paid on site, cash only):

  • Students: 15€
  • Faculty: 25€

Whatever your case, however, registration is necessary. You can do so by filling in the form below.

More info and program soon!