seminar series “Darwin’s Tongues – Evolution of Language”: “Deep linguistic time, ultra-conserved words and the linguistic universals that make them possible” - Mark Pagel

  • Date: Nov 27, 2015
  • Time: 11:00 AM - 12:00 PM (Local Time Germany)
  • Speaker: Mark Pagel from the Reading University, UK
  • Location: MPI Plön
  • Room: Lecture hall
  • Host: Miriam Liedvogel and Miriam Linnenbrink
Abstract :

I describe some startling regularities among the World’s language families in the rates at which pairs of languages diverge over time and investigate how this regularity arises from shared linguistic phenomena including frequencies of word use, rates of word evolution (word replacement) and the existence of a small set of ultra-conserved words that can link a number of linguistic families.

I present new evidence on common patterns in the ways that sounds or phones – the fundamental building blocks of words – evolve and link these patterns to the geography of the human vocal apparatus. These links hint at a ‘shortest route’ model of sound change that continually generates the diversity of sounds that propel linguistic evolution in the face of purifying selection for clear communication.

Last, I muse on the remarkable similarities between some of these linguistic phenomena and counterparts in genetics, informally attempting to unify them as essential elements of information transfer systems that require both great fidelity and great variety.

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