Assistant Professor of Anthropology, UCLA
Erica Cartmill is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at UCLA. She studies the acquisition and evolution of human language. Her work bridges the biological and linguistic subfields and involves both comparative and developmental approaches to communication.
Erica is interested in how the multimodal aspects of communication contribute to and constrain the construction of meaning in spontaneous interaction. She is particularly interested in whether gesture played a role in the origins of human language. While this is a difficult question to address directly, she approaches it from a number of different angles: by studying how great apes learn and use gestures, and how human children gesture (and learn from the gestures of others) before they are fully proficient in spoken language.
Both her great ape and human research involves observing spontaneous interactions between communicative partners as well as employing communication games that allow for more controlled experimentation. All of Erica’s primate work takes place in American and European zoos. This research has focused on orangutans, but planned studies will involve comparison with other great apes. Her work with human children takes place in home environments and at UCLA. These studies focus on North American children learning English, and involve families with a range of socioeconomic and educational backgrounds.