Language, biological evolution and cultural evolution
Division of Psychology, Northumbria University, UK
Last modified: October 18, 2007
Language exists at the intersection of two complex adaptive systems: biological evolution of the language faculty, and cultural evolution of language itself. How do these two evolutionary processes interact to yield the particular structures we observe in language? Two recent models focusing on cultural evolution make alternative claims about the relationship between innate bias and linguistic structure: either linguistic structure is largely determined by cultural factors, with strength of innate bias being relatively unimportant, or the nature and strength of innate machinery is key. These two competing possibilities rest on different assumptions about the learning process. I will discuss an extension to these models to include a treatment of biological evolution, and show that natural selection for communication favors those conditions where the structure of language is primarily determined by cultural transmission.