New Blog: Culture Evolves!

... Well, new to me at least. It's run by Fiona Jordan of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, and her latest post is an interview with one of my favourite researchers, Simon Greenhill (I didn't know he designed a sudoku solving program). Also, after having done a little digging into her publications, I found the following forthcoming paper: The effect of population size and density on rates of linguistic evolution. Here is the abstract:

Evolutionary theory from population genetics predicts that demography may play an important role in determining the rate at which cultural and linguistic traits change over time. However, relatively few studies have explored this relationship for language at an appropriate scale and in a quantitative way, nor controlled for the problem of non-independence induced by the historical relationships between languages. Here we use phylogenetic trees of 351 Austronesian languages to test whether the rate of change in core vocabulary is affected by population size and population density. We detected a strong phylogenetic signal in both population size and density, indicating the need for historical control. We find a significant inverse relationship between lexical replacement and population size, no relationship with population density, and we confirm that splitting events influence lexical evolution. These results support the idea that a process analogous to genetic drift may be an important factor in lexical evolution. Furthermore, the strong phylogenetic signal in these demographic factors suggests that despite repeated population splits the social conditions that influence speech community size and density are maintained and inherited from one generation to the next.

I'm not going to say anything on a paper I haven't yet read, other than it looks pretty cool and that more people should be considering the influence of demographic factors in linguistics.

  • Thanks so much for the mention - I'm very much enjoying this blog, and am making my way through the colour term posts with pleasure.

    I'm pleased you think the population size paper sounds interesting (we did too). It's in review at the moment (fingers crossed) so I'll let you know what happens.

    Cheers, Fiona

  • Awesome -- glad you're enjoying the blog. Hope all goes well with the review.

  • Al

    Hi, has this paper already been published?

    I'm an evolutionary biologist and found this abstract very appealing, but I didn't find any reference in Fiona's webpage.

    I'd appreciate if you provide me any hint on where to get it from.

    BTW, nice blog!

    Cheers,

    Al