Review

Nature Reviews Genetics 10, 405-415 (June 2009) | doi:10.1038/nrg2560

Human language as a culturally transmitted replicator

Mark Pagel1  About the author

Top

Human languages form a distinct and largely independent class of cultural replicators with behaviour and fidelity that can rival that of genes. Parallels between biological and linguistic evolution mean that statistical methods inspired by phylogenetics and comparative biology are being increasingly applied to study language. Phylogenetic trees constructed from linguistic elements chart the history of human cultures, and comparative studies reveal surprising and general features of how languages evolve, including patterns in the rates of evolution of language elements and social factors that influence temporal trends of language evolution. For many comparative questions of anthropology and human behavioural ecology, historical processes estimated from linguistic phylogenies may be more relevant than those estimated from genes.

Author affiliations

  1. School of Biological Sciences, University of Reading, Reading, Berkshire RG6 6AH, UK; and Santa Fe Institute, 1399 Hyde Park Road, Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA.
    Email: m.pagel@reading.ac.uk

MORE ARTICLES LIKE THIS

These links to content published by NPG are automatically generated.

REVIEWS

Phylogeny estimation: traditional and Bayesian approaches

Nature Reviews Genetics Review (01 Apr 2003)

NEWS AND VIEWS

Linguistics Trees of life and of language

Nature News and Views (27 Nov 2003)

Linguistics Talking trees tell tales

Nature News and Views (29 Jun 2000)

Linguistics An invisible hand

Nature News and Views (11 Oct 2007)

See all 9 matches for News And Views