I am a teaching fellow at the University of Edinburgh, where I am mainly involved in the MSc in the Evolution of Language and Cognition. This semester I am teaching Origins and Evolution of Language for undergraduates and postgraduates, and the postgraduate course Foundations of Evolution.
I am a member of the Language Evolution and Computation research group.
Here is my CV , including a publication list.
The evolution of culture:
Culture has been defined as learned knowledge, values and skills that reside in people's minds and that are transmitted among the members of a social group by means other than genetic inheritance. Public culture is made up of man-made artefacts and learned behaviours that exist in space and time. In both public and private culture it is easy to observe elements that persist unchanged over generations, elements that disappear and new elements that emerge. I am working on the development of a formal framework to describe these cultural evolutionary processes in terms of the fundamental elements and mechanisms of selection dynamics as described in Hull (1988) and Gell-Mann (1994).
For instance, the evolution of languages (public behaviours) can be viewed as the result of selection of the linguistic signals that are best adapted to communication (of private knowledge, beliefs and values) and to being learned by human infants. And the evolution of private culture can be viewed as the result of selection of the ideas that are best adapted to being transmitted by our learned cultural conventions (e.g. language).
Within this framework, I use a variety of experimental paradigms to try to find answers to questions such as: what are the fundamental units of cultural selection? How is the evolution of cultural behaviours and artifacts shaped by their functions, and vice versa? or What is the relation between language and culture?
Quantifying adaptation between signals and meanings:
The structure of cultural systems is the result of adaptation to selective pressures (as well as of chance and "frozen accidents"). The structure of speech, for instance, is shaped by the transmission dynamics and the structure of the social network where language is used (Croft). I am interested in another pressure on the structure of speech, namely the structure of the meanings to be communicated. In collaboration with Andrew Smith I am working on quantitative measures of adaptation between meanings and signals. RegMap is an information-theoretical measure of the regularity of the mappings between elements of the signals and elements of the meanings that can be inferred from exposure to language in use. We apply RegMap and phylogenetic analyses to reveal cognitive biases operating during learning which may have an impact on the structure of speech.
In my PhD (Edinburgh, 2005) I looked at quantitative methods to investigate how the lexicon structure has adapted to various pressures, from human learning biases to our comunicative needs. I was supervised by Simon Kirby, from the department of Linguistics and Richard Shillcock, from Informatics and Psychology. Here is the thesis abstract and here is the .pdf