Research Prizes

Marieke Schouwstra
PhD dissertation:
Semantic Structures, Communicative Strategies and the Emergence of Language.

Supervisor: Prof. dr H.E. de Swart
Nomination: Faculty of the Humanities, Utrecht University

Report of the Selection Committee
With the tools of language philosophy and evolution theory, Marieke Schouwstra has found a way to study the evolution of language through an ingenious empirical research method. Meanings of words and communication have played a role in the early stages of language evolution, and in order to find out which role, Marieke has organized a series of inventive experiments. Her thesis gives insight into the urge of mankind to organise the world around him by means of language. Her dissertation promises to be an exciting new line of research.

Marieke Schouwstra studied Cognitive Artificial Intelligence in Utrecht. After completing her MA thesis in formal linguistics and language philosophy, she started her PhD project about language evolution. In her research, Marieke studied different forms of ‘limited’ language use in situations where persons cannot use their mother tongue. During a working visit to the University of Edinburgh she started lab-experiments, in which adult experimental subjects convey information through improvised gestures. In her thesis she combined language theoretical insights and empirical observations in a notion of the origin of language, in which language first developed complex meanings, on which it subsequently based syntactic rules. After a short period of teaching Linguistics at Utrecht University, she continued her research with a British Academy stipend, as a postdoc at the University of Edinburgh. With her project ‘Simulating Conventionalisation in the Lab’ she studies the origin of complex structure in language by looking at improvised communication and cultural evolution in the lab.