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Computational and evolutionary aspects of language

Naturevolume 417pages611617 (2002) | Download Citation

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Abstract

Language is our legacy. It is the main evolutionary contribution of humans, and perhaps the most interesting trait that has emerged in the past 500 million years. Understanding how darwinian evolution gives rise to human language requires the integration of formal language theory, learning theory and evolutionary dynamics. Formal language theory provides a mathematical description of language and grammar. Learning theory formalizes the task of language acquisition—it can be shown that no procedure can learn an unrestricted set of languages. Universal grammar specifies the restricted set of languages learnable by the human brain. Evolutionary dynamics can be formulated to describe the cultural evolution of language and the biological evolution of universal grammar.

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Acknowledgements

Support from the David and Lucille Packard foundation, the Leon Levy and Shelby White initiatives fund, the Florence Gould foundation, the Ambrose Monell foundation, the National Science Foundation and J. E. Epstein is acknowledged.

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Affiliations

  1. Institute for Advanced Study, Einstein Drive, Princeton, New Jersey, 08540, USA

    • Martin A. Nowak
    •  & Natalia L. Komarova
  2. Department of Mathematics, University of Leeds, Leeds, LS2 9JT, UK

    • Natalia L. Komarova
  3. Department of Computer Science, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, 60637, USA

    • Partha Niyogi

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Correspondence to Martin A. Nowak.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/nature00771

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