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Workshop: Causal Hypotheses in Evolutionary Linguistics, Sean Roberts, 15 August

Australian National University, Evolution

Date: 27 July 2018

Workshop: Causal Hypotheses in Evolutionary Linguistics

Speaker: Sean Roberts, University of Bristol

When: 15 August 2018, time to be confirmed

Where: location to be confirmed

This workshop will provide a crash-course in causal thinking, present a database of causal hypotheses in evolutionary linguistics (CHEILD) and provide space for people to contribute their own hypotheses to the database. Causal inference is a powerful way of representing hypotheses about how variables are causally related. CHILED uses causal graphs to capture theories about language evolution and language change. The aim is to provide a tool to help researchers discover links between theories, locate evidence and spot weak links. This is the first attempt to do this in the field, and there are many interesting practical and theoretical issues. The database currently has over 1,000 causal links, contributed by experts in the field. Anyone can contribute to CHILED (their own papers or anyone else’s papers) through the online interface ( For a limited time, anyone who contributes 5 papers to CHIELD will be added as a co-author on a paper to be submitted to the Journal of Language Evolution.

Part 1 will introduce the basics behind causal inference, mainly drawing on Pearl (2018) and Daniel (2017) (you can skip this part if you are already familiar). Part 2 introduces CHIELD and provides some illustrative examples and problems. Part 3 will be an informal practical session where people can contribute to CHIELD and discuss problems as they arise.


Part 1: Introduction to causal graphs and causal inference (optional): 1 hour

  • Causal graphs
  • Confounding and colliders
  • Back door adjustment
  • Front door adjustment
  • Instrumental variables
  • Indicator variables
  • Model fitting with causal graphs in R
  • Causal discovery

Part 2: The Causal Hypotheses in Evolutionary Linguistics Database: 1 hour

  • Purpose of CHIELD
  • Design of CHIELD
  • Case studies of using CHIELD
  • Conceptual issues
  • Practical issues
  • Discussion

Part 3: Practical session (optional): 1 hour

  • Practice papers
  • Coding session
  • Review and Discussion


Roberts, S. (2018). CHEILD: causal hypotheses in evolutionary linguistics database. In Cuskley, C.,

Flaherty, M., Little, H., McCrohon, L., Ravignani, A. & Verhoef, T. (Eds.): The Evolution of Language:

Proceedings of the 12th International Conference (EVOLANGXII). doi:10.12775/3991-1.099

Pearl, J. (2018) The Book of Why: The New Science of Cause and Effect. Penguin.

Daniel, R. (2017) Introduction to causal inference. UK Causal Inference Meeting 2017.

  • Australian Government
  • The University of Queensland
  • Australian National University
  • The University of Melbourne
  • Western Sydney University