Evolution of Language Interest Group

Department of Linguistics
Stanford University

Evolution of Language

We meet regularly to discuss and develop research in linguistic evolution — meaning both the biological evolution of the language faculty and the evolution of language as a changing system of communication. The former has been a subject of debate for many years, but somehow one that linguists have never taken centre-stage in, and it remains the case that we don't tend to pay much attention to biological plausibility when describing human language.

It's only recently that language change itself has come to be studied as an evolutionary process, however. It fits the criteria perfectly: fragments of language are replicators (they are learnt and thus reproduce), subject to mutation (through "mislearning" or innovation) and subject to selection pressure (if something causes people to stop using them, they die out). Researchers are exploring this in computational models of language change, and also by application to traditional diachronic linguistics.

External links to other research in the area:

Group Members

Last updated: 30th Mar 2005

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