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Trends Cogn Sci. 2010 Sep;14(9):411-7. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2010.06.006. Epub 2010 Aug 2.

Language evolution in the laboratory.

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School of Psychology, Philosophy and Language Sciences, University of Edinburgh, 3 Charles Street, Edinburgh EH89AD, UK.


The historical origins of natural language cannot be observed directly. We can, however, study systems that support language and we can also develop models that explore the plausibility of different hypotheses about how language emerged. More recently, evolutionary linguists have begun to conduct language evolution experiments in the laboratory, where the emergence of new languages used by human participants can be observed directly. This enables researchers to study both the cognitive capacities necessary for language and the ways in which languages themselves emerge. One theme that runs through this work is how individual-level behaviours result in population-level linguistic phenomena. A central challenge for the future will be to explore how different forms of information transmission affect this process.

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