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Evolution

Presentation

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  Evolution of languages
  Origins of language and languages
  Languages and Genes

How to explain the dramatic diversity of the languages spoken on our planet today without ignoring the universality of the function of language that distinguishes mankind from other living creatures? To provide keys to such an ambitious question, understanding the evolutions that have led to the current situation, not only during the last centuries but also over longer periods back to the origins of language, is one of the possible approaches. It gathers a vast number of fields and questions: what are the relationships between modern languages, and how far can linguists go back in time toward their origins?
What are the sources of linguistic change? How do languages relate to the genes or cultures of human populations? What cognitive capacities underlie the differences between human language and animal communication systems? To this respect, what can we learn from the archaeological and ethological data?

The members of the team « Evolution » address these various questions and to this end draw on various disciplines and conceptual or technical tools. Works in historical linguistics meet studies on genetic markers in human populations, as well as theoretical models on the comparison between linguistic and genetic classifications. Empirical data about words or phonological inventories of the world’s languages are evaluated against outputs of computer simulations. Through collaborations with other teams of the laboratory, possible similarities between ontogeny and phylogeny of language are investigated, while connections are established with the description of endangered languages. From a few dozens of years for semantic or phonological changes to millions of years for the development of the human taxon, different time scales therefore frame the different research operations and sometimes meet to try to build a coherent and continuous scenario for the evolution of languages.

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