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LINGUIST List 21.2383

Fri May 28 2010

Confs: Bioling, Anthro Ling/UK

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        1.    Monica Tamariz, Language as an Evolutionary System: A Multidisciplinary Approach

Message 1: Language as an Evolutionary System: A Multidisciplinary Approach
Date: 28-May-2010
From: Monica Tamariz <monicaling.ed.ac.uk>
Subject: Language as an Evolutionary System: A Multidisciplinary Approach
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Language as an Evolutionary System: A Multidisciplinary Approach

Date: 12-Jul-2010 - 13-Jul-2010
Location: Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Contact: Monica Tamariz
Contact Email: monicaling.ed.ac.uk
Meeting URL: http://www.ling.ed.ac.uk/~monica/LES

Linguistic Field(s): Anthropological Linguistics

Other Specialty: Biolinguistics

Meeting Description:

These two days of talks and discussion will bring together scholars from a range
of disciplines to discuss the value of applying evolutionary thinking to the
cultural evolution of language. Linguistics has traditionally been cautious of
analogies between evolution in language an in biology. Common ancestry and
descent were proposed earlier for languages than for biological species, but
while biological evolution has flourished into a science with solid theories
that generate testable hypothesis, the study of the cultural evolution of
language -- evolution that is independent of changes in the human genome - is
only beginning to test theories.

McMahon (1994) concluded that the way forward is Darwinian thinking. Since then,
a number of independent proposals (e.g. Croft, 2000; Ritt, 2003; Mufwene, 2001,
2008; Nettle, 1999) have convergently applied explicit analogies with the
elements and processes of the evolutionary synthesis (Mayr & Provine, 1998) to
cultural language dynamics. They all assume that language evolution and change
are caused by cultural mechanisms such as social transmission and language usage
in context. Recent convergent theoretical and methodological advances in
evolutionary linguistics, archaeology and anthropology suggest that language is
one aspect of culture that can be studied using theories and methods also
applied to other cultural phenomena. Historical linguistics' phylogenetic
methods (see a modern approach in McMahon & McMahon, 2005), have been adopted in
archaeology and anthropology (Lipo et al., 2006). Agent-based computer
simulations, mathematical models and evolutionary game theory have been used to
explore the cultural evolution of language and of socio-cognitive requirements
for culture, such as cooperation, imitation or conformity (Boyd & Richerson,
2005). Memetics (Dennett, 1995; Aunger, 2000) proposes that memes (Dawkins,
1975), the cultural analogues to genes, evolve in an environment that includes
humans and other memes. Sperber (1995) has strongly argued against memetics by
claiming that cultural transmission is essentially transformational, and there
is no true replication in culture.


Summing up, this workshop is concerned with how Darwinian thinking can be
applied to the cultural evolution of language. A multidisciplinary collection of
contributions form the fields of linguistics, psychology, biology and philosophy
will help construct a clearer picture of the state of this field.
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