The evolutionary dynamics of language

Luc Steels, Eörs Szathmáry

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

2 Citations (Scopus)


The well-established framework of evolutionary dynamics can be applied to the fascinating open problems how human brains are able to acquire and adapt language and how languages change in a population. Schemas for handling grammatical constructions are the replicating unit. They emerge and multiply with variation in the brains of individuals and undergo selection based on their contribution to needed expressive power, communicative success and the reduction of cognitive effort. Adopting this perspective has two major benefits. (i) It makes a bridge to neurobiological models of the brain that have also adopted an evolutionary dynamics point of view, thus opening a new horizon for studying how human brains achieve the remarkably complex competence for language. And (ii) it suggests a new foundation for studying cultural language change as an evolutionary dynamics process. The paper sketches this novel perspective, provides references to empirical data and computational experiments, and points to open problems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)128-137
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2018



  • Code biology
  • Fluid construction grammar
  • Language change
  • Language development
  • Neuronal replicators

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Statistics and Probability
  • Modelling and Simulation
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Applied Mathematics

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