Towards a general theory of language evolution

Evolution is one of the most powerful processes shaping every adaptive complex system. We are using multiple lines of evidence to rigorously develop a generalised conception of evolutionary theory, informing and informed by language evolution.

Formal techniques developed for evolutionary biology (e.g. modelling evolutionary change) can now be applied to languages. These methods are immensely powerful, using enormous amounts of data, and allowing hypotheses about language and language-culture interaction to be explicitly tested.

The application of these tools to language must be intelligent and nuanced. We will identify the necessary preconditions for these approaches to language, and show how evolutionary theory and linguistics enrich each other.

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