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“Biolinguistics and Systems Biology: A Complex Systems Analysis of Language” - Ryan Nefdt (University of Cape Town)

Ryan Nefdt
Ryan Nefdt
University of Cape Town & MIT
Peabody Hall, Room 115; also online, register at:
Special Information:
Co-hosted with the UGA Department of Linguistics 
Abstract for “Biolinguistics and Systems Biology: A Complex Systems Analysis of Language”: 

In their recent book, Ladyman and Wiesner (2020) delineate a new interdisciplinary field called ‘complexity science.’ In that work, they provide examples of generally accepted complex systems and common features which these systems possess to varying degrees. In this talk, I plan to extend their list to include the formal study of natural language, i.e. linguistics. In fact, I will argue that language exhibits many of the hallmarks of a complex system, specifically a complex biological system. Thus, my aim is to advocate, contra the ‘Galilean strategy’ traditionally favored by Chomskyans and the Minimalist program (Chomsky 1995) which motivates simple underlying mechanisms (i.e. Merge) in their idealizations, that linguistics should embrace a ‘Maximalist Program’ in which multiple subfields contribute component explanations to an emerging whole. 

This lecture will take place both in person and online. Online attendees should pre-register at:  

Ryan Nefdt is a Senior Lecturer in the Philosophy Department at the University of Cape Town, where he is also affiliated with the Department of Linguistics. His research interests lie at the intersection of the philosophy of language, science, and theoretical linguistics, with additional interests in all aspects of AI and its socio-political impact in Africa. He was recently a visiting fellow at the Center for the Philosophy of Science at the University of Pittsburgh (2021) and is currently a research fellow at the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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