Population size potentially affecting rates of language change


Open access Population Size and the Rate of Language Evolution: A Test Across Indo-European, Austronesian, and Bantu Languages, by Greenhill et al. Front. Psychol (2018) 9:576.

Summary (emphasis mine):

What role does speaker population size play in shaping rates of language evolution? There has been little consensus on the expected relationship between rates and patterns of language change and speaker population size, with some predicting faster rates of change in smaller populations, and others expecting greater change in larger populations. The growth of comparative databases has allowed population size effects to be investigated across a wide range of language

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Neanderthal language revisited: speech old and shared with archaic humans


Neanderthal language revisited: not only us, by Dediu and Levinson, Curr Opin Behav Sci (2018) 21:49–55.


Here we re-evaluate our 2013 paper on the antiquity of language (Dediu and Levinson, 2013) in the light of a surge of new information on human evolution in the last half million years. Although new genetic data suggest the existence of some cognitive differences between Neanderthals and modern humans — fully expected after hundreds of thousands of years of partially separate evolution, overall our claims that Neanderthals were fully articulate beings and that language evolution was gradual are further substantiated by

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Language evolution and language change related to ancient DNA


An interesting special issue of the journal Language Evolution has appeared, dedicated to Ancient DNA and language evolution.

Also, check out the preprint at BioRxiv, Geospatial distributions reflect rates of evolution of features of language, by Kauhanen et al. (2018).


Different structural features of human language change at different rates and thus exhibit different temporal stabilities. Existing methods of linguistic stability estimation depend upon the prior genealogical classification of the world’s languages into language families; these methods result in unreliable stability estimates for features which are sensitive to horizontal transfer between families and whenever data are aggregated

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Forces driving grammatical change are different to those driving lexical change

Grammar change

A new paper at PNAS, Evolutionary dynamics of language systems, by Greenhill et al. (2017).


Do different aspects of language evolve in different ways? Here, we infer the rates of change in lexical and grammatical data from 81 languages of the Pacific. We show that, in general, grammatical features tend to change faster and have higher amounts of conflicting signal than basic vocabulary. We suggest that subsystems of language show differing patterns of dynamics and propose that modeling this rate variation may allow us to extract more signal, and thus trace language history deeper than has been previously

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