Book Chapter

Dynamic Models of Language Evolution: The Linguistic Perspective


Smith ADM (2016) Dynamic Models of Language Evolution: The Linguistic Perspective. In: Ginsburgh V & Weber S (eds.) The Palgrave Handbook of Economics and Language. Basingstoke: Palgrave, pp. 61-100.

Language is probably the key defining characteristic of humanity, an immensely powerful tool which provides its users with an infinitely expressive means of representing their complex thoughts and reflections, and of successfully communicating them to others. It is the foundation on which human societies have been built and the means through which humanity’s unparalleled intellectual and technological achievements have been realized. Although we have a natural intuitive understanding of what a language is, the specification of a particular language is nevertheless remarkably difficult, if not impossible, to pin down precisely. All languages contain many separate yet integral systems which work interdependently to allow the expression of our thoughts and the interpretation of others’ expressions: each has, for instance, a set of basic meaningless sounds (e.g. [e], [l], [s]) which can be combined to make different meaningful words and parts of words (e.g. < Emphasis Type="Italic">else, less, sell, -less < /Emphasis>); these meaningful units can be combined to make complex words (e.g. < Emphasis Type="Italic">spinelessness, selling < /Emphasis>), and the words themselves can then be combined in very many complex ways into phrases, clauses and an infinite number of meaningful sentences; finally each of these sentences can be interpreted in dramatically different ways, depending on the contexts in which it is uttered and on who is doing the interpretation. Languages can be analysed at any of these different levels, which make up many of the sub-fields of linguistics, and the primary job of linguistic theorists is to try to explain the rules which best explain these complex combinations.

language change; language evolution; dynamic models of language change

Publication date29/02/2016
Publisher URL
Place of publicationBasingstoke