Our Research

There is a great diversity of research being undertaken at the LEC. Much of it involves the use of computational simulations to test and explore theories about the origins of language. However, not everyone here uses computers, and we are not solely interested in language origins. Being based within the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, we are keen to blur the boundaries between evolutionary linguistics, and more traditional areas. For example, a substantial proportion of our current work examines models of language acquisition and looks at how these impact on our theories of language. If there is a guiding principle behind the LEC approach it is that taking an evolutionary stance sheds new light on the central questions surrounding human language.

Simon Kirby‘s inaugural lecture as Professor of Language Evolution covers some of the research that we are doing at the LEC and can be watched below:

Current active research topics include (but are not limited to): iterated learning, a mathematical framework for cultural evolution; innateness and poverty of the stimulus arguments; the interaction between cultural and genetic evolution; language universals and Universal Grammar; the emergence of meaning through environmental interaction and inference; the origins of semantic representations; evolutionary approaches to phonological theory; quantitative statistical approaches to genetic and linguistic diversity; adaptive structure in the lexicon; bird-song evolution.

More details of our work, and downloadable papers, are available on LEC members own web-pages and on the UIUC bibliography. To give an idea of the kinds of areas we are interested in, a selection of the dissertations undertaken at the LEC is listed below:

Function, Selection & Innateness, the Emergence of Language Universals (Kirby 1996, PhD)

Internal and external factors affecting language change: A computational model (Clark 1996, MSc)

Simplicity as a Driving Force in Linguistic Evolution (Brighton 2003, PhD)

The Transmission of Language: models of biological and cultural evolution (Smith 2003, PhD)

Evolving Communication through the Inference of Meaning (Smith 2003, PhD)

Exploring the Adaptive Structure of the Mental Lexicon (Tamariz 2005, PhD)

Baldwinian Accounts of Language Evolution (Yamauchi 2004, PhD)

The Major Transitions in the Evolution of Language (Zuidema 2005, PhD)

Iterated Learning: The Exemplar-based Learning Approach (Eddy 2005, MSc)

Facial and Vocal Attractiveness: a developmental and cross-modality study (Saxton 2005, MSc)

Why talk: an Adaptationist Approach (Scott-Phillips 2005, MSc)

Language and Morality: Evolution, Altruism and Linguistic Moral Mechanisms (Poulshock 2006, PhD)

Why Not to Speak Like the Neighbours: Linguistic variation as social marker (Roberts 2006, MSc)

Iterated Learning with Human Subjects: an Empirical Framework for the Emergence and Cultural Transmission of Language (Cornish 2006, MSc)

Prototype Categorisation and the Emergence of a Lexicon in an Infinite World (Laskowski 2006, MSc)

Evolution as a Constraint on Theories of Syntax: The Case against Minimalism (Parker 2006, PhD)

Non-Spurious Correlations between Genetic and Linguistic Diversities in the Context of Human Evolution (Dediu 2007, PhD)