The Role of Sequential Learning in Language Evolution: Computational and Experimental Studies

  • Morten H. Christiansen
  • Rick A. C. Dale
  • Michelle R. Ellefson
  • Christopher M. Conway


After having been plagued for centuries by unfounded speculations, the study of language evolution is now emerging as an area of legitimate scientific inquiry. Early conjectures about the origin and evolution of language suffered from a severe lack of empirical evidence to help rein in proposed theories. This led to outlandish claims such as the idea that Chinese was the original ur-language of humankind, surviving the biblical flood because of Noah and his family (Webb, 1669, cited in Aitchison, 1998). Or, the suggestion that humans have learned how to sing and speak from the birds in the same way as they would have learned how to weave from spiders (Burnett, 1773, cited in Aitchison, 1998). Given this state of the art, it was perhaps not surprising that the influential Société Linguistique de Paris in 1866 imposed a ban on papers discussing issues related to language origin and evolution, and effectively excluded such theorizing from the scientific discourse.


Noun Phrase Language Evolution Sequential Learning Artificial Language Prepositional Phrase 
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© Springer-Verlag London Limited 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Morten H. Christiansen
  • Rick A. C. Dale
  • Michelle R. Ellefson
  • Christopher M. Conway

There are no affiliations available

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