December 19, 2014

2:48 PM | Chomsky lecture ‘The Biology of Language’
Recently, Noam Chomsky spoke at the at theRoyal Dutch Academy of Sciences Colloquium on ‘The Biology of Language’ in  Amsterdam. The whole thing has been posted on YouTube, so I made a playlist. Enjoy!

December 18, 2014

8:25 PM | Evolve an App Name
I’m working with the Language in Interaction project to create an App game about linguistic diversity.  It’s a game where you listen to several recordings of people talking and have to match the ones who are speaking the same language.  It’s quite a lot like the Great Language Game, but we’re using many lesser-known languages […]

December 15, 2014

12:19 PM | Cultural Beings, the Ontology of Culture, and a Return to Books and Blues
I haven’t forgotten my on-going series of posts on the direction of cultural evolution; you know, the one that started with Matt Jockers’ Macroanalysis? But I’ve been busy with other things. Here’s another post to add to that pile. I’m not yet burned out on culture, but lordy lordy I’m gettin’ there. But there’s a […]

December 11, 2014

11:10 AM | Natural causes of language
Natural causes of language by Nick Enfield discusses theories behind cultural transmission of language.  From the blurb: What causes a language to be the way it is? Some features are universal, some are inherited, others are borrowed, and yet others are internally innovated. But no matter where a bit of language is from, it will […]

December 08, 2014

2:00 PM | Different approaches to causality in linguistics
Damian Blasi and I are organising a workshop on Causality in the language sciences (call for presentations now open!). As we were talking about the themes, we realised that there are multiple ways that a causal mechanism may manifest itself in the real world, and that very different statistical approaches may be applicable to each. […]

December 07, 2014

12:30 AM | Old Dates Pose Problems for Old Theories
One of the running quarrels on this blog concerns the age of language. I think it began about 1.8 million years ago while a great many linguists and archaeologists date it, at most, as 0.1 million years ago. The main...

December 05, 2014

10:15 AM | Stone Age Minds (with Dr Kenny Smith and Dr Suilin Lavelle)
As part of the free online course, Philosophy and the Sciences, Dr Kenny Smith and Dr Suilin Lavelle have prepared a three-part video series on Evolutionary Psychology and Cultural Evolution called Stone Age Minds: Clocking in at under 40 mins for the all three parts, the series provides a good primer on the basic principles underpinning modern […]

December 02, 2014

8:40 PM | Conceptual Foundations of Language Science publishes its first book
Two months ago we started a new book series with the innovative open access publisher Language Science Press: Conceptual Foundations of Language Science. We’re proud to announce that the series published its first book this week. The book, Natural causes of language is … Continue reading →
12:37 PM | Languages adapt to their contextual niche (Winters, Kirby & Smith, 2014)
Last week saw the publication of my latest paper, with co-authors Simon Kirby and Kenny Smith, looking at how languages adapt to their contextual niche (link to the OA version and here’s the original). Here’s the abstract: It is well established that context plays a fundamental role in how we learn and use language. Here […]

WINTERS, J., KIRBY, S. & SMITH, K. (2014). Languages adapt to their contextual niche, Language and Cognition, 1-35. DOI: 10.1017/langcog.2014.35

Silvey C, Kirby S & Smith K (2014). Word Meanings Evolve to Selectively Preserve Distinctions on Salient Dimensions., Cognitive science, PMID:

Piantadosi, S., Tily, H. & Gibson, E. (2012). The communicative function of ambiguity in language, Cognition, 122 (3) 280-291. DOI: 10.1016/j.cognition.2011.10.004


November 26, 2014

8:56 PM | Editorial Manager and password security for academics
Today, Nature published a news feature by Cat Ferguson, Adam Marcus and Ivan Oransky (Retraction Watch) in which I am quoted about some problems with Editorial Manager (EM). This post provides the background to what I say there. Disclaimer: I am not … Continue reading →

November 21, 2014

2:08 PM | Why Cultural Evolution Needs a Distinction Between “Genes” and “Phenotypes”
I’m thinking I’m about to burn out on cultural evolution, so this will be relatively short and informal. * * * * * Ever since I began thinking about a Darwinian process for cultural evolution back in the mid-1990s I’ve insisted on making a distinction between phenotypic entities (which I’m now calling “phantasms”) and genotypic […]
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