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Themes and actions

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Origin of languages and linguistic diversity during prehistory

  Contact person
Christophe COUPE

Scientific framework and objectives

Although the domain of the origins of language has undeniably been experiencing a dramatic renewal for the last fifteen years, notably thanks to the new bridges thrown between various fields interested in the question, a gap still needs to be crossed between the research on the origins of the function of language and the research on the development of modern languages. Different disciplines, questions, time scales or conceptions of evolution, few contributes to connections between these domains that however seem intuitively close, since the function of language is only attested through the world’s languages, in their diversity and complexity.


We aim at connecting the two former domains by paying attention to the development of the diversity and complexity of languages during prehistory. To this end, we do not follow the classical approach of historical linguistics which remains limited to shallow time depths, and try to introduce data from other fields to consider the prehistoric evolutions of languages from a broader perspective. We especially try to take advantage of the knowledge about the paleodemographic conditions of our ancestors into account, in order to partially rebuild the social environment in which the first languages were evolving. From these data, we rely on theoretical mathematical models and their implementation on computers to explore questions related to the monogenesis or polygenesis of languages, or the rate of evolution and diversity of languages during prehistory.

  Financial support
  • OHLL


  • Coupé, C., Hombert, J.M., 2005, "Polygenesis of linguistic strategies: a scenario for the emergence of language", in Language Acquisition, Change and Emergence: essays in evolutionary linguistics, Minett , J., Wang, W.S. (eds), Hong Kong, City University of Hong Kong Press, pp. 153-201
  • Coupé, C., 2004, "A unified computer model for internal and external constraints in language evolution", proc. of 5th International Conference on the Evolution of Language, Leipzig, 31 March - 3 April 2004, pp. 34-35
  • Coupé, C., 2003, "Quelles sont les spécificités du langage (humain) ?", Conférence grand public, 17 Festival du Film Scientifique d Oullins, 26 Novembre
  • Coupé, C., 2005, "Revue de l'ouvrage "Atlas des langues - L’origine et le développement des langues dans le monde" (sous la direction de Bernard Comrie, Stephen Matthews et Marie Polinsky) ", 331, Pour la Science, pp. 100
  • Coupé, C., 2005, "Influence of ecology on linguistic systems", Eco-cultural Niche Modeling Symposium, Les Eyzies (France), 24-27 Septembre 2005
  • Coupé, C., 2005, "L’origine du langage, thème récurrent dans la pensée des hommes", in Aux origines des langues et du langage, Hombert, J.M. (eds), Paris, Fayard, pp. 40-41
  • Coupé, C., 2006, "Histoires d'origines", Conférence grand public, Centre de Valpré, Ecully, France, 25 Août 2006
  • Coupé, C., 2006, "Je parle, donc Je suis ? Origines du langage et Naissance de l’Homme moderne", Conférence grand public, MJC d Annecy, 14 Mars 2006
  • Coupé, C., 2006, "Distributed Cognition & The Emergence of Language: Language as a Representational Medium", proc. of 2nd Conference on Language, Culture and Mind, ENST, Paris, July 17-20, pp. 37-38
  • Foucart, S., 2005, "Sur la piste d'une hypothétique langue mère", Le Monde, 17 Août 2005
  • Ke, J., Coupé, C., Gong, T., 2006, "A little bit more, a lot better - Language emergence from quantitative to qualitative change", proc. of 6th International Conference on the Evolution of Language, Roma, Italy, April 12-15, pp. 419-420
  • Marsico, E., Coupé, C., Pellegrino, F., 2000, "Evaluating the influence of language contact on lexical changes", proc. of 3rd International Conference on the Evolution of Language, ENST, Paris, France, April 3-6, pp. 154-155

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