Evolutionary linguistics

Evolutionary linguistics

Evolutionary linguistics is the scientific study of the origins and development of language. The main challenge in this research is the lack of empirical data: spoken language leaves no traces. This led to an abandonment of the field for more than a century [for about 12 decades, from the 1860s to the 1980s.] . Since the late 1980s, the field has been revived in the wake of progress made in the related fields of psycholinguistics, neurolinguistics, evolutionary anthropology and cognitive science.


August Schleicher (1821-1868) and his ‘Stammbaumtheorie’ are often quoted as the starting point of evolutionary linguistics. Inspired by the natural sciences, especially biology, Schleicher was the first to compare languages to evolving species. [Liba Taub: "Evolutionary Ideas and "Empirical" Methods: The Analogy Between Language and Species in the Works of Lyell and Schleicher." British Journal for the History of Science 26, pages 171-193 (1993)] He introduced the representation of language families as an evolutionary tree in articles published in 1853.
Joseph Jastrow published a gestural theory of the evolution of language in the seventh volume of "Science" [cite journal |author=Jastrow J |title=The Evolution of Language |journal=Science |volume=7 |issue=176S |pages=555–557 |year=1886 |pmid=17778380 |doi=10.1126/science.ns-7.176S.555 | url=http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0036-8075%2818860618%292%3A7%3A176%3C555%3ATEOL%3E2.0.CO%3B2-7]

The Stammbaumtheorie proved to be very productive for comparative linguistics, but didn't solve the major problem of evolutionary linguistics: the lack of fossil records. The question of the origin of language was abandoned as unsolvable. Famously, the "Société Linguistique de Paris" in 1866 refused to admit any further papers on the subject. The field has re-appeared in 1988 in the Linguistic Bibliography, as a subfield of psycholinguistics. A dedicated research conference was first held in 1996.The "Studies in the Evolution of Language" series has been appearing with Oxford University Press since 2001.

tudy methods

One of these researchers is Professor Dr. Luc Steels, head of the research units of Sony CSL in Paris and the AI Lab at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. He and his team are investigating ways in which artificial agents self-organize languages with natural-like properties and how meaning can co-evolve with language. Their research is based on the hypothesis that language is a complex adaptive system that emerges through adaptive interactions between agents and continues to evolve in order to remain adapted to the needs and capabilities of the agents. This research has been implemented in fluid construction grammar (FCG), a formalism for construction grammars that has been specially designed for the origins and evolution of language.

The approach of computational modeling and the use of robotic agents grounded in real life is theory independent. It enables the researcher to find out exactly what cognitive capacities are needed for certain language phenomena to emerge. It also focuses the researcher in formulating hypotheses in a precise and exact manner, whereas theoretical models often stay very vague. The precision and theory independence of these kinds of experiments make them of great value for the scientific debate.Fact|date=October 2007

Some linguists, such as John McWhorter, have analyzed the evolution and construction of basic communication methods such as Pidginization and Creolization. [(2002) McWhorter, John. "The Power of Babel: The Natural History of Language", Random House Group.]

"Nativist" models of "Universal Grammar" are informed by linguistic universals such as the existence of pronouns and demonstratives, and the similarities in each languages process of nominalization (The process of verbs becoming nouns) as well as the reverse, the process of turning nouns into verbs. [(2005) Deutscher, Guy. "The Unfolding of Language", Owl Books.] This is a purely descriptive approach to what we mean by "natural language" without attempting to address its emergence.

EVOLANG Conference

The Evolution of Language International Conferences [http://www.ling.ed.ac.uk/evolang/] have been held biennially since 1996.
# 1996 Edinburgh: Hurford, J. R., Studdert-Kennedy, M. & Knight C. (eds), "Approaches to the Evolution of Language - Social and Cognitive Bases", Cambridge University Press, 1998.
# 1998 London: Chris Knight, James R. Hurford and Michael Studdert-Kennedy (eds), "The Evolutionary Emergence of Language: Social function and the origins of linguistic form", Cambridge University Press,
# 2000 Paris: J. L. Desalles & L. Ghadakpour (eds.), Proceedings of the 3rd International Conference on the Evolution of Language
# 2002 Harvard: J. Hurford & T. Fitch (eds.), Proceedings of the 4th International Conference on the Evolution of Language
# 2004 Leipzig
# 2006 Rome: Kenny. Smith, Andrew, D. M. Smith, Angelo Cangelosi, "The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 6th International Conference on the Evolution of Language", World Scientific, ISBN 9812566562.
#2008 Barcelona [http://stel.ub.edu/evolang2008/pro.htm]



*Cangelosi, A. and Harnad, S. (2001) [http://cogprints.org/2036/ The adaptive advantage of symbolic theft over sensorimotor toil: Grounding language in perceptual categories] "Evolution of Communication" 4(1):pp. 117-142.
*M. Christiansen and S. Kirby (eds.), "Language Evolution", Oxford University Press, New York (2003), ISBN 978-0199244843.
**Bickerton, D., "Symbol and Structure: A Comprehensive Framework for Language Evolution", pp. 77-93.
**Hurford, J. R., "The Language Mosaic and Its Evolution", pp. 38-57.
**Lieberman, P.,"Motor Control, Speech, and the Evolution of Language", pp. 252-271.
*Deacon, T. (1997) "The symbolic species: the coevolution of language and the brain", Norton, New York.
*Hauser, M.D. (1996) "The evolution of communication", MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.
* Daniel Dor and Jablonka Eva (2001). How language changed the genes. In Tabant J. Ward. S. (editors). Mouton de Gruyer: Berlin, pp 149-175.
* Dor D. and Jablonka E. (2001) From cultural selection to genetic selection: a framework for the evolution of language. Selection, 1-3, pp. 33-57.
*cite journal |author=Hauser MD, Chomsky N, Fitch WT |title=The faculty of language: what is it, who has it, and how did it evolve? |journal=Science |volume=298 |issue=5598 |pages=1569–79 |year=2002 |pmid=12446899 |doi=10.1126/science.298.5598.1569 | url=http://www3.isrl.uiuc.edu/~junwang4/langev/localcopy/pdf/hauser02science.pdf
*Jackendoff, R. (2002) [http://www.bbsonline.org/Preprints/Jackendoff-07252002/Referees/ "Foundations of language: brain, meaning, grammar, evolution"] Oxford University Press, New York
*Komarova, N.L. (2007). Language and Mathematics: An evolutionary model of grammatical communication. In: [http://urss.ru/cgi-bin/db.pl?cp=&page=Book&id=53184&lang=en&blang=en&list=1 "History & Mathematics"] . Ed. by Leonid Grinin, Victor C. de Munck, and Andrey Korotayev. Moscow, KomKniga/URSS. P. 164-179. ISBN 9785484010011.
*Nowak, M.A. and N.L. Komarova (2001) Towards an evolutionary theory of language, "Trends in Cognitive Sciences" 5 (7), pp. 288–295.
*Pinker, S. (1994) "The language instinct", HarperCollins, New York.
*Pinker, S. and P. Bloom (1990) [http://www.bbsonline.org/documents/a/00/00/04/99/index.html Natural language and natural selection] [http://www.bbsonline.org/ "Behavioral and Brain Sciences"] 13: pp. 707–784
*Sampson, Geoffrey: "Evolutionary Language Understanding", published 1996 by Cassel (London), ISBN 0304336505
*Steels, L. (2001) Grounding Symbols through Evolutionary Language Games. In: Cangelosi A. and Parisi D. (Eds.) [http://www.tech.plym.ac.uk/soc/staff/angelo/book2001-TOC.html "Simulating the Evolution of Language"] Springer.
*Steklis, H.D. and Harnad, S (1976) [http://cogprints.org/866/ From hand to mouth: Some critical stages in the evolution of language] In: Harnad, S., Steklis, H. D. and Lancaster, J., (1976) (Eds) Origins and Evolution of Language and Speech. "Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences" 280: 1-914.
*See also the [http://www.isrl.uiuc.edu/amag/langev/ UIUC Language Evolution and Computation Bibliography/Repository] (1200+ related references, citations, and fulltext pointers)
*Encyclopedia Americana,Americana Corporation of Canada{1959}-Iceland-Language
*Zuidema, W. H., "The Major Transitions in the Evolution of Language", PhD thesis, Theoretical and Applied Linguistics, University of Edinburgh (2005) [http://www.isrl.uiuc.edu/~amag/langev/paper/zuidema05phd.html]
*Johansson, Sverker, "Origins of language : constraints on hypotheses", Converging evidence in language and communication research vol. 5, Amsterdam : Benjamins (2005).
*Mithen, Steven J., "The singing neanderthals : the origins of music, language, mind and body" London : Weidenfeld & Nicolson (2005), ISBN 978-0-297-64317-3
*Partha Niyogi, "The computational nature of language learning and evolution" MIT Press, Current studies in linguistics 43 (2006).
*A. Carstairs-McCarthy, "The evolution of language", Lingua vol. 117, issue 3 (2007, March).
*Bernd Heine, Tania Kuteva, "The genesis of grammar : a reconstruction", Oxford University Press, 2007, ISBN 978-0-19-922776-1, ISBN 978-0-19-922777-8.
*James R. Hurford, "Language in the light of evolution", Oxford University Press, Studies in the evolution of language vol. 1 (2007).
*cite journal |author=Atkinson QD, Meade A, Venditti C, Greenhill SJ, Pagel M |title=Languages evolve in punctuational bursts |journal=Science |volume=319 |issue=5863 |pages=588 |year=2008 |pmid=18239118 |doi=10.1126/science.1149683

Further reading

*cite book |last= Johanson|first= Donald C. |coauthors=and Edgar, Blake |title=From Lucy to Language |year=2006 |edition= Revised, updated, and expanded |publisher= Simon and Schuster |location=New York, NY |isbn=0743280644 |oclc=72440476

*cite book |last=Kenneally |first= Christine |title=The First Word: The Search for the Origins of Language |year=2007 |publisher=Viking |location=New York, NY |isbn=9780670034901 |oclc=80460757

*cite book |last=Tallerman |first=Maggie |title=Language Origins: Perspectives on Evolution |year=2005 |publisher=Oxford University Press |location=Oxford, UK; New York, NY |isbn=0199279047 |oclc=60607214

External links

* [http://arti.vub.ac.be/FCG/ Fluid Construction Grammar]
* [http://www.ling.ed.ac.uk/lec/ Language Evolution and Computation Research Unit, University of Edinburgh]
* [http://www.csl.sony.fr/ Sony CSL Research]
* [http://rd-ir.vub.ac.be/RDE/index.html Vrije Universiteit Brussel Research]
* [http://arti.vub.ac.be/ ARTI Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, Vrije Universiteit Brussel]
* [http://www.ecagents.org/ ECAgents: The Project on Embodied and Communicating Agents]

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