Evolution of Language - University at Albany -

Evolution of Language
Language: Cultural Dynamics, Genetics
Recent Attention, Gene-Culture theory
Wang & Minnett. 2005. The invasion of language:
emergence, change and death. Trends in Ecology & Evolution
Evolution of Language
Language: Distinguishes humans from other
animals? Important?
Language: 3 Elements (de Saussure)
Langage: Physical, Cognitive & Cultural (All)
Langue: Words, Grammar (Particular Culture)
Parole: Individual’s speech
Evolution of Language
How did language first arise?
How does innovation invade & spread?
How do languages compete for speakers
within & between populations?
How do languages go extinct?
Evolution of Language
Jones (1786): Sanskrit, Greek & Latin
Post-Darwin: Language phylogenies
Today: Single ancestral language, ‘proto-Sapiens’
vs ‘polygenesis’
Evolution of Language
160K YBP: First Modern Humans
50K YBP: ‘Cultural Explosion’
Innovations, painting, funerals
Language (presumably) preceded cultural growth
Evolution of Language
120K YBP: Human FOXP2 allele fixed
‘Grammar gene,’ apparently strong positive
selection since human & chimp lineages split
Movements of mouth & face,
formation of linguistic syntax,
comprehension (?)
Figure 1 A multidisciplinary perspective on language evolution.
Fisher SE and Marcus GF (2005) The eloquent ape: genes, brains and the evolution of language
Nat Rev gene. 7: 9–20 doi:10.1038/nri1747
Evolution of Language
Language Emergence:
(Gene) 120K YBP < time < 50K YBP (Culture)
Incremental Language ‘Strategies’
Hunter-Gatherer Groups
Evolution of Language
All Cultures Have Language
6000 languages today (many unwritten)
50 to 90 % Extinct by 2100 (?)
Socio-economic competition (cultural evolution)
English, Spanish Replace Native Languages
Competition between Languages for Speakers
Languages Going Extinct
Language Competition (Abrams & Strogatz,
2003, Nature 424:900)
Language Interaction Produces Bilingual Speakers
Bilingual Individual: “Drop” Language if not
economically useful
One Monolingual Type Can Disappear
Language Competition (Abrams & Strogatz,
2003, Nature 424:900)
Evolution of Language
Origin & Maintenance of Language
Innovation (Invasion): Words, Languages
Growth, Decline Use; Language Extinction
Gene-Culture Evolutionary Ecology