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Cultural EvolutionSociety, Technology, Language, and Religion$
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Peter J. Richerson and Morton H. Christiansen

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780262019750

Published to MIT Press Scholarship Online: May 2015

DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262019750.001.0001

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The Interplay of Genetic and Cultural Factors in Ongoing Language Evolution

The Interplay of Genetic and Cultural Factors in Ongoing Language Evolution

(p.219) 12 The Interplay of Genetic and Cultural Factors in Ongoing Language Evolution
Cultural Evolution

Stephen C. Levinson

Dan Dediu

The MIT Press

This chapter discusses recent advances in our understanding of the complex interplay between cultural and biological factors in language change and evolution. Three “myths” (the independence of biological and cultural evolution, a fixed biological foundation for culture, and the cognitive uniformity of humans) are identified and falsified. Strong genetic biases are shown to affect language profoundly, using the example of village sign languages that emerge and complexify due to persistent high frequencies of genetic deafness in certain communities. Evidence is presented for the genetic bases of language and speech, and the extensive genetic variation within populations affecting them. Finally, it is proposed that in addition to intrapopulation variation, interpopulation differences in genetic biases that affect language and speech contribute to the emergence of linguistic diversity, through iterated cultural transmission across generations as well as communication and alignment within them. Thus, biological and cultural processes cannot be meaningfully separated when studying the cultural evolution of language. Published in the Strungmann Forum Reports Series.

Keywords:   biological evolution, evolution of language, genetic and cultural factors, genetic biases, intrapopulation variation, linguistic diversity

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