Formal and Computational Models of Language Evolution

Gerhard Jäger, University of Bielefeld

The term "language evolution" is used in two different ways in the literature:

1. the biological evolution of the human language faculty
2. the cultural evolution of human languages

The course will be concerned with the second notion. Natural languages can be considered as evolving entities, similar to species in biology. Accordingly, language change can be conceptualized as an evolutionary process. Linguistic universals are features of languages that are invariant in evolutionarily stable states.

We will study formal models of language evolution in this sense. Evolutionary Game Theory (EGT) -- a mathematical framework that emerged from collaboration between biologists and economists -- has proven a useful metatheory for this kind of endeavor. The first half of the course will consist of a crash course of EGT. The second part of the course deals with various linguistic applications, ranging from phonology via morphology and syntax to semantics. The investigations make heavy use of computer simulations, and the course will also deal with practical implementation issues.

Course material