Special Evolution Seminar: Christine Cuskley, Università La Sapienza



Christine Cuskley, Università La Sapienza


Lynch Lecture Hall


Identifying key processes in the evolution of language

Language forms the bedrock for all of our social interactions, be they interpersonal, performative, or economic. Understanding language therefore has the potential to further our understanding of a whole host of other social systems, and considering language from an evolutionary perspective is key to understanding it fully. This talk will focus on empirical findings in two areas in the evolution of language: the evolution of the lexicon, and evolutionary dynamics of language regularity. In terms of the lexicon, I present data showing that language users share biases to connect certain perceptual experiences with particular linguistic sounds. These cognitive biases may have been crucial in providing the scaffolding for the emergence of a shared vocabulary. A separate line of research uses a comprehensive approach including language corpora, simulations, and experiments to examine the coexistence of regularity and irregularity in language, using the English simple past tense as an exemplar. Tying these two lines of research together, I will outline pressures acting on a language system which play a key role in shaping both the lexicon and dynamics of regularity.

Department of Chemistry

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