Director's Seminar Series - Interdisciplinary adventures in language evolution: exploring the past, present and future of language diversity

The past decade has seen a flowering of collaboration between evolutionary biologists and linguists. Useful analytical tools from evolutionary biology have been applied to many long standing problems in language evolution. In this talk, I will describe interdisciplinary collaborations between linguists and evolutionary biologists that have allowed us to develop new ways of asking interesting questions about language change, including: What influences individual’s mix of language variants? How do the frequency of language variants change over time? Do smaller or larger populations have faster rates of language change? What factors generate global patterns of language diversity? What are the drivers of language loss? Our most recent research suggests that rates of language loss could triple within forty years, with at least one language lost per month. Without urgent intervention, 1500 of the world’s languages could fall silent by the end of the century, the majority with little or no documentation. Our collaborative projects have recently been awarded the 2021 Eureka Prize for Interdisciplinary Research.