Tag Archives: UK


Language Evolution Session at EHBEA 2012

H/T: Evolutionary Linguistics.

Call deadline: 25 November 2011
Event Dates: 15-28 March 2012
Event Location: Durham, UK
Event URL:
Dear colleagues,

We are organising a special themed session on language evolution at the 2012 Annual Meeting of the European Human Behaviour and Evolution Association, which is held in Durham, UK, 25th-28th March 2012 (http://www.dur.ac.uk/jeremy.kendal/EHBEA2012/Welcome.html). EHBEA is an excellent venue for interdisciplinary work on the cultural and biological evolution of human behaviour, including language. Given that EHBEA is running shortly after EVOLANG next year, we are happy for research that is targeted at EVOLANG to also be submitted here, although note that the audience for each is likely to be different.

If you would like to submit an abstract for consideration as part of this themed session, please follow the submission instructions on the EHBEA website, marking your abstract as for consideration in the language evolution special session, organised by Simon Kirby and Kenny Smith. Abstracts will be independently reviewed by the usual EHBEA reviewers, so bear that in mind when preparing your submission. The themed session will only run if sufficient abstracts are accepted – of course, papers on language evolution could be presented independently as standard EHBEA talks.

The deadline for submissions is November 25th.


Best wishes,
Simon & Kenny

Linguistic interactions in the UK

I just heard a talk by social network creator extraordinaire Clio Andris about redefining regional boundaries in the UK based on telecommunications data.  Her group took data from 12 billion telephone calls made over the space of a month and created a social network based on this (Ratti et al. , 2010). This network was then used to calculate how closely connected two neighbouring locations were. By optimising the spectral modularity, the best-fitting boundaries could be defined.

Here’s a video demonstration:

The data is fascinating, but there is little explanation.  Here’s one of the maps (left) compared with a map of regional accents and a map of rail transport links (right):

A perceptual map of dialects, from Montgomery, C. (2007) Northern English Dialects: A perceptual approach, PhD thesis. pdf


A comparison of the two experiments.

One of the first things that struck me was the similarity with a map of regional accents (apologies for the quality of the accent map – I couldn’t find the one I was looking for).  Apparently, people are talking to people that sound like them.  Or, people who talk to each other sound like each other.  This isn’t covered in the paper, but seems like an important issue.

Secondly, the rail links also seem to form the ‘backbones’ of the communications regions.  This is also mentioned in the paper.  However, these two features are linked.

Coming from Wales, the important fit here is the three-way split in Wales.  South Wales feels like a different country to North Wales – culturally and linguistically.  However, both are linked by having large amounts of natural resources: Coal in South Wales and slate in North Wales.  This lead to massive migration into cities in the north and south, and rail links were set up to extract these resources to London or the nearest ports:  Cardiff in the south and Liverpool in the north.  Thus, it’s still a real pain to get from North Wales to South Wales.  The picture is somewhat true of the east and west sides of the north of England.

So, the natural resources concentrated people and transport links.  However, it also concentrated political views.  The large migrant community in Wales, working for little pay in large mine institutions, became unionised.  Socialism emerged, promoting political movements that lead to the minimum wage.

The point being, natural resources, transport links and politics are connected with some being historically dependent on each other.  This is, perhaps, precisely why splitting the nation by who speaks to who is a good measure of political regions.  It would be fascinating to see how linguistic divisions interact with these variables.

Ratti, Carlo, Sobolevsky, Stanislav, Calabrese, Francesco, Andris, Clio, Reades, Jonathan, Martino, Mauro, Claxton, Rob, & Strogatz, Steven H. (2010). Redrawing the map of Great Britain from a network of human interaction PLoS ONE, 5

What Makes Humans Unique ?(IV): Shared Intentionality – The Foundation of Human Uniqueness?

What Makes Humans Unique (IV): Shared Intentionality – The Foundation of Human Uniqueness?

Shared or collective intentionality is the ability and motivation to engage with others in collaborative, co-operative activities with joint goals and intentions. (Tomasello et al. 2005). The term also implies that the collaborators’ psychological processes are jointly directed at something and take place within a joint attentional frame (Hurford 2007: 320, Tomasello et al. 2005).

Michael Tomasello and his colleagues at the Max-Planck-Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany have proposed that shared intentionality and the cognitive infrastructure supporting it may be the crucial feature that makes humans unique.

(You can hear Michael Tomasello talk about shared intentionality in his brief 2009 acceptance speech for the prestigeous “Hegel-Price” here. Transcript here)

Continue reading

The Media Noose: Copycat Suicides and Social Learning

This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for ResearchBlogging.orgResearchBlogging.orgI always remember 2008 as the year when the entire UK media descended upon the former mining town of Bridgend. The reason: over the course of two years, 24 young people, most of whom were between the ages of 13 and 17, decided to commit suicide. At the time I was working in Bridgend, so I’m able to appreciate the claims of local MP, Madeleine Moon, that media influence had become part of problem. After all, most editors will tell you: the aim is to sell newspapers. And when this rule is rigorously applied, it should not come as a surprise at the depths some journalists will sink to recycle a news story. Even at a local-level, where you’d think some civic responsibility might exist, journalists clambered over themselves to find a new angle, generating ridiculous claims such as: electromagnetic waves from mobile phones caused the suicides.

Continue reading

Some Links #7

Deconstructing Chomsky — Rewriting the innate rules of grammar. Andrew Caines over at the Naked Scientist has a good, layman’s article on Chomsky’s conception of UG and Dan Everett’s recent book Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle. It’s quite a good introduction for anyone who is open to the possibility that  psycholinguistics doesn’t end with Chomsky (or Pinker for that matter).

New developments in AI. An in-depth article on artificial intelligence over at .CSV. I’m only half-way through the article, but I thought it was worth mention as, the first half at least, is pretty good. H/T: Mind Hacks.

Many English Speakers cannot understand basic grammar. Apparently, “Research into grammar by academics at Northumbria University suggests that a significant proportion of native English speakers are unable to understand some basic sentences”. Language Log and John Hawks have both picked up on the story. Once the paper is released I’ll probably write an in-depth post at GNXP.

Birth Months of World Cup Players. A short, but interesting, post over at GNXP debunking the relevance of your birth month in regards to sporting achievement. I never thought there was any controversy over the issue… But it turns out I was wrong.

Mathematical Formula Predicts Clear Favorite for FIFA World Cup. Keeping with the football theme, and apparently this formula predicts a Spanish victory. The psychic Octopus appears to think so too. I disagree. Go Netherlands!

How many Zombies do you know? Applied Statistics links to yet another Zombie-inspired study.

Dr Evan Harris. Not a link to a particular article, but it’s just nice to see Dr Evan Harris back writing his blog after being defeated in the recent UK elections.

PepsiCo has been expelled. For those of you who don’t know what this headline’s about, don’t worry, it was all just a very bad dream.

Negative Interest Rates

I just read this article in BBC news about negative interest rates:

If the Bank of England cuts interest rates on Thursday could the interest paid on our savings fall below zero?

Negative interest rates, where the bank charges us to look after our savings, have been seen before.

In the 1970s Swiss banks charged foreign customers rather than paying them interest to hold their money.

I don’t think we’ll see negative interest rates in the UK, although it is technically possible, and has happened before. To use the hypothetical example offered by the BBC: if you place £10,000 in the bank, and the negative interest rate is at -1%, then at the end of the year you’d get a return of just £9,900 — essentially a £100 charge for the pleasure of banking. Great.

A word of warning if this does happen: Northern Rock will, to quote one comment from the Guardian website, look like “a 6 year old emptying his piggy bank“.