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Darwin and language diversity: Track 4


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Can Darwin's theory of evolution be applied to languages? If so what are the analogues for natural selection and species diversification? What truths does this approach reveal and what problems does it throw up? In this album Professor Mark Pagel of Reading University and Quentin Atkinson, an evolutionary biologist at Oxford, discuss the pitfalls and the up-sides to approaching language through a Darwinian model. Focussing on Indo-European languages, they show how mathematical and statistical models can be used to study the development of both particular words and of grammatical terms. Looking to the future they speculate on how language will develop in the new globalised culture. The tracks on this album were produced by The Open University in collaboration with the British Council. They form part of Darwin Now, a global initiative celebrating the life and work of Charles Darwin and the impact his ideas about evolution continue to have on today’s world. © British Council 2009.

By: The OpenLearn Team (The Open University)

  • Duration 28 minutes
  • Updated Monday 9th November 2009

Track 4: Revolution or evolution?

Why, when languages change, do they often do so in rapid bursts.

Tracks in this podcast:

Track Title Description
1 Darwin and language diversity A short introduction to this album. Play now Darwin and language diversity
2 A Darwinian approach to language What happens when you apply Darwin to the development of language? Mark Pagel and Quentin Atkinson explore the parallels. Play now A Darwinian approach to language
3 Conservation and diversification In the tree of Indo-European languages, some words are remarkably similar across several languages, whilst many other words are remarkably different. Play now Conservation and diversification
4 Revolution or evolution? Why, when languages change, do they often do so in rapid bursts. Play now Revolution or evolution?
5 Warriors or farmers - who spread Indo-European languages? There are two theories about the way that Indo-European languages spread - which one is correct? Play now Warriors or farmers - who spread Indo-European languages?
6 Towards a global language? Can Darwin's theories predict the future of language? Why are languages so resilient in the face of globalisation? Play now Towards a global language?
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