Cultural Evolution of Language: Implications for Cognitive Science


The past couple of decades have seen an explosion of research on language evolution, initially fueled by Pinker and Bloom’s (1990) groundbreaking article arguing for the natural selection of biological structures dedicated to language. The new millennium has seen a shift toward explaining language evolution in terms of cultural evolution rather than biological adaptation. Crucially, this research has many important implications for cognitive science, not only in terms of the nature of the biases to consider in language acquisition but also for cognition, more generally. In this symposium, we therefore take stock of current work on the cultural evolution of language, highlighting key implications of this work for cognitive scientists from different perspectives, ranging from philosophical considerations (Chater) and Bayesian analyses (Griffiths) to evolutionary psycholinguistics (Kirby) and molecular genetics (Christiansen).

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