We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Otherwise, we'll assume you're OK to continue.

Online Events Registration

Event Details

The Past & Future of Universal Grammar

Thursday, 15 December 2011 to Sunday, 18 December 2011


Please note registration for the conference has now closed.
Any inquiries please contact Wolfram Hinzen at

Grammar is universal in human populations, pathologies aside. A theory of grammar should thus be a universal theory in this sense. Yet it is widely contended today that it need not be the theory of Universal Grammar (UG), in the sense of its early generative formulations, which have taken UG to be a linguistically specific and species-specific biological endowment consisting of functionally arbitrary formal rules. Theories of universal grammar have also been formulated in a number of different ways in the past, with far from identical underlying axiomatic assumptions. Furthermore, the modern theory of UG itself is currently undergoing a significant reformulation, following the development of Minimalism. This conference aims to provide a forum for assessing and (re-)directing the course that research on universal grammar and the biological foundations of language should take over the coming years and decades, bringing together linguists, psychologists, philosophers, and biologists.

Full Description


Thursday 15th December – arrival date and registration in the Union Society from 6:30pm,accommodation in Durham Business School.

Public Lecture in Union Society
Tim Crow, University of Oxford: The speciation of modern Homo sapiens

Friday 16th December – Main conference in Calman Learning Centre, Science Site

Session 1: The past of UG
Wolfram Hinzen, Durham University: Three traditions of Universal Grammer
Elisabeth Leiss, University of Munich: Part-whole-relations in the Universal Grammar of the Modistae

Session 2: The future of UG
Guglielmo Cinque, University of Venice: In search of Universal Grammar: the hidden structure of natural language
Anders Holmberg, Newcastle University and Ian Roberts, University of Cambridge:Past and future approaches to linguistic variation

Session 3: No need for UG
Ewa Dabrowska, Northumbria University: What exactly is Universal Grammar, and who has seen it?
Nick Chater, Warwick Business School: Language is shaped by the brain; but not the reverse

Session 4: The evolution of grammar
Maggie Tallerman, Newcastle University: Is the syntax rubicon more of a mirage? A defence of pre-syntactic protolanguage
Ian Tattersall, American Museum of Natural History: A context for the emergence of language

Public Lecture in Union Society
Tom Roeper, University of Massachusetts: The image of mind in the grammar of children

Session 5: The Grammaticalisation of the brain
Christopher Petkov, Newcastle University: In pursuit of the brain network for proto-syntactic learning in primates.
Nathalie Tzourio-Mazoyer, University of Bordeaux: Neural basis of the hemispheric specialization for language
Gavin Clowry, Newcastle University: Human specific aspects of cerebral cortex development

Session 6: Thinking without grammar
Wolfram Hinzen, Durham University: Pathways to the Language of Thought
Tom Roeper, University of Massachusetts: The UG challenge of Interfaces
Rosemary Varley, Sheffield University: Reason without grammar
Jill de Villiers, Smith College: Which concepts need the human language faculty?

UG: the minimum workshop in Union Society
Hagit Borer, University of Southern California: T.B.C.
Halldor Sigurdsson, Lund University: On externalisation.
Daniel Seely, Eastern Michigan University: Maximising Minimal Merge
Michelle Sheehan, University of Cambridge: How much variation is PF-variation?

Downloadable Copy of the Programme

Travel Advice


The main conference will take place in the Calman Learning Centre (43 on the campus map). This is situated on the University science site, 15-20 minutes from the city centre on foot. The public lecture and Sunday workshop will take place in the Union Society (21 on the campus map), which is situated next to the Cathedral on Palace Green.


A limited number of hotel rooms has been reserved in the Tree Tuns Hotel and the Marriott. These can be booked via the online registration form below. Alternatively, accommodation can be booked directly via

Conference Dinner

The conference dinner will take place on Saturday 17th December at 7.30pm in the Lindisfarne centre function room. The price of £30 includes three courses and two glasses of wine. Menu


Commentators have been selected.

Conference Fees

  • Waged (GBP 75.00)
    Includes tea/coffee and biscuits and lunch on Friday 16th-Saturday 17th December and tea/coffee on Sunday 18th December.
  • Unwaged (GBP 50.00)
    Includes tea/coffee and biscuits and lunch on Friday 16th-Saturday 17th December and tea/coffee on Sunday 18th December.