Evolved structure of language shows lineage-specific trends in word-order universals

  title={Evolved structure of language shows lineage-specific trends in word-order universals},
  author={Michael Dunn and Simon J. Greenhill and Stephen C. Levinson and Russell David Gray},
Languages vary widely but not without limit. [] Key Method Here we use computational phylogenetic methods to address the nature of constraints on linguistic diversity in an evolutionary framework. First, contrary to the generative account of parameter setting, we show that the evolution of only a few word-order features of languages are strongly correlated. Second, contrary to the Greenbergian generalizations, we show that most observed functional dependencies between traits are lineage-specific rather than…
The Biological Origin of Linguistic Diversity
Rather than genetic adaptations for specific aspects of language, such as recursion, the coevolution of genes and fast-changing linguistic structure provides the biological basis for linguistic diversity.
Tracing the roots of syntax with Bayesian phylogenetics
It is shown that Bayesian phylogenetics can provide quantitative answers to three important questions: how word orders are likely to change over time, which word orders were dominant historically, and whether strong inferences about the origins of syntax can be drawn from modern languages.
Learning biases predict a word order universal
Structural Variability Shows Power-Law Based Organization of Vowel Systems
Speech sounds are an essential vehicle of information exchange and meaning expression in approximately 7,000 spoken languages in the world. What functional constraints and evolutionary mechanisms lie
Universals of word order reflect optimization of grammars for efficient communication
Computational and corpus evidence is reported for the hypothesis that a prominent subset of these universal properties—those related to word order—result from a process of optimization for efficient communication among humans, trading off the need to reduce complexity with theneed to reduce ambiguity.
Cognitive biases and language universals
It is shown that the cultural history of a group of speakers introduces population-specific constraints that act against the uniforming pressure of the cognitive bias, and the interplay between these two forces is clarified.
Individual Biases, Cultural Evolution, and the Statistical Nature of Language Universals: The Case of Colour Naming Systems
It is shown that the cultural history of a group of speakers introduces population-specific constraints that act against the pressure for uniformity arising from the individual bias, and the interplay between these two forces is clarified.
Clues to language evolution from a massive dataset with typology, phonology, and vocabulary from many languages
A major component in the evolution of language is the evolution of the human language capacity, whatever biological endowments humans have that make us language-ready. But the language capacity is
Abstract Profiles of Structural Stability Point to Universal Tendencies, Family-Specific Factors, and Ancient Connections between Languages
There is a strong universal component across language families, suggesting the existence of universal linguistic, cognitive and genetic constraints and a novel method for analyzing the relationships between the “stability profiles” of language families is introduced.
Phylogenetic signal and rate of evolutionary change in language structures
Within linguistics, there is an ongoing debate about whether some language structures remain stable over time, which structures these are and whether they can be used to uncover the relationships


The myth of language universals: language diversity and its importance for cognitive science.
This target article summarizes decades of cross-linguistic work by typologists and descriptive linguists, showing just how few and unprofound the universal characteristics of language are, once the authors honestly confront the diversity offered to us by the world's 6,000 to 8,000 languages.
Evolutionary Linguistics
The area under review is vast and growing, and therefore this review is restricted to research in which qualitative concepts and quantitative methods from evolutionary biology have been applied to the analysis of language, in particular language change and language phylogeny.
Language Universals
The evolution of human language has received a considerable amount of interest in recent years, which is reflected by a wealth of publications (for an overview, see Behme, 2009). While most experts
The Atoms of Language
Using a twenty-year-old theory proposed by the world's greatest living linguist, Noam Chomsky, researchers have found that the similarities among languages are more profound than the differences.
Language-tree divergence times support the Anatolian theory of Indo-European origin
An analysis of a matrix of 87 languages with 2,449 lexical items produced an estimated age range for the initial Indo-European divergence of between 7,800 and 9,800 years bp, in striking agreement with the Anatolian hypothesis.
Bantu language trees reflect the spread of farming across sub-Saharan Africa: a maximum-parsimony analysis
  • C. Holden
  • Linguistics
    Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B: Biological Sciences
  • 2002
The Bantu language tree reflects the spread of farming across this part of sub–Saharan Africa between ca.
Language Phylogenies Reveal Expansion Pulses and Pauses in Pacific Settlement
The results are robust to assumptions about the rooting and calibration of the trees and demonstrate the combined power of linguistic scholarship, database technologies, and computational phylogenetic methods for resolving questions about human prehistory.
The Greenbergian word order correlations
This paper reports on the results of a detailed empirical study of word order correlations, based on a sample of 625 languages. The primary result is a determination of exactly what pairs of elements
American Indian languages : the historical linguistics of Native America
Native American languages are spoken from Siberia to Greenland, and from the Arctic to Tierra del Fuego; they include the southernmost language of the world (Yaghan) and some of the northernmost
The Austronesian Basic Vocabulary Database: From Bioinformatics to Lexomics
The technology underlying the ABVD is described and the benefits that an evolutionary bioinformatic approach can provide are discussed, including facilitating computational comparative linguistic research, answering questions about human prehistory, enabling syntheses with genetic data, and safe-guarding fragile linguistic information.