Evolution of Language

Available to watch on-demand now

How do languages evolve?  From the origins of language to bilingualism, this series journeys into the mysteries of this uniquely human trait and the power it has to change our world. Language is unique to humans - no other animal on earth uses language to communicate.  Language enables us to network our intelligence and collaborate to build civilisations.  It’s how we express ideas, negotiate, give directions and share love.  But what was the origin of language and how has language evolved?

In this series we go on a journey from the origins of language to how languages evolve and die, gaining greater understanding of why language is so important to how we live, human progress and our own identity. 

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DatesAvailable to watch on-demand now
Talks structure30 minute lecture20 minute Q&A
LocationOnline

7 talks in this Garden Series

Ep

01

History
Is our language the key to our past?

Travel, mobility, and migration were instrumental in making Early modern England a multilingual landscape. But when did the English start speaking English and, how confident were early speakers in the scope of this fast-evolving language? Read more

Dr John Gallagher

University of Leeds

John Gallagher is a cultural and social historian of early modern Britain and Europe, with a particular interest in language, migration, and education. His research crosses boundaries between British and European history and stretches from the sixteenth to the early eighteenth century. He has researched and written on topics from the history of Italian grammar to the Grand Tour, and from perfumed gloves to Mediterranean piracy.  

His research also covers urban multilingualism in early modern England. Working with the rich and multilingual records of immigrant communities in sixteenth and early seventeenth-century England, this project uses sources predominantly in French, Dutch, Italian, and English to explore urban multilingualism and polyglot lives, offering new perspectives on identity, language, urban life, and migration in early modern England and Europe.

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Ep

02

Literature & Language
Psychology & Behaviour
How do languages evolve?

Language sets humankind apart from other species. Even our closest primate relatives haven't developed the same ability to acquire & use language. Why are humans the only species with language and how did language evolve? Read more

Professor Simon Kirby

University of Edinburgh

Simon Kirby is Professor of Language Evolution at the University of Edinburgh and an elected Fellow of the British Academy, Royal Society of Edinburgh, Cognitive Science Society, and a member of the Academy of Europe.

He works in parallel on scientific and artistic investigations of cultural evolution and the origins of human uniqueness, particularly the evolution of language. He founded the Centre for Language Evolution, which has pioneered techniques for growing languages in the experiment lab and exploring language evolution using computer simulations. His artistic work includes Cybraphon, which won a BAFTA in 2009 and is now part of the permanent collection of the National Museum of Scotland.

Simon has always been fascinated in how the behaviour of our species as a whole somehow emerges from the individual actions of every human. He has been using computer models to understand how culture evolves. Recently he has been working with artists and musicians to create installations that explore the same question that scientists ask: why are humans the way they are? He tries to divide his time equally between science and art with the aim that eventually he will not know the difference.

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Ep

03

Literature & Language
Can life be both wonderful and terrible at the same time?

The modern world is increasingly polarised; we see things in black and white. How can Shakespeare teach us to hold two conflicting ideas in our heads simultaneously? Read more

Prof. Shannon Murray

University of Prince Edward Island

Dr Shannon Murray is a professor and 3M National Teaching Fellow, teaching Early Modern and Children’s literature at the University of Prince Edward Island. She gives workshops and talks on active learning, capstone courses for art majors, global experience courses, learning communities, and teaching dossiers, including since 2002 for the Faculty Development Summer Institute on Active Learning.

As the founding editor of The Recorder, she has published on Bunyan’s Book for Boys and Girls, on adaptations for children, as well as on the scholarship of teaching and learning. She is the vice-president of the International John Bunyan Society, a former coordinator of the 3M National Teaching Fellowship, and the former Director of UPEI’s Teaching and Learning Centre. Along with her collaborators Dr Lisa Dickson and Dr Jessica Riddell, she is completing a book project for the University of Toronto Press on Shakespeare, Hope, and Empathy.

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Ep

04

Literature & Language
Psychology & Behaviour
Could anyone become perfectly bilingual?

More than half the world speaks two or more languages fluently. And yet being bilingual is a label often reserved for native speakers who learn multiple languages as children. Can you both 'be' and 'become' bilingual? Read more

Antonella Sorace

University of Edinburgh

Antonella Sorace is Professor of Developmental Linguistics in the School of Philosophy, Psychology & Language Sciences at the University of Edinburgh. As an experimental linguist specialising in bilingualism across the life-span, Antonella is fascinated by how we acquire and develop language at different stages of our lives. Her research has shown that no-one is every perfectly bilingual; your native languages affect each other. She argues being bilingual should just mean you are fluent in two languages, whether you learned those languages as a child or adult.

Antonella a Fellow of British Academy and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and is the founding director of the non-profit organisation Bilingualism Matters, which focuses on research around language learning and promotes the benefits of learning a second language.

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Ep

05

Literature & Language
Philosophy & Religion
How did language begin?

What makes human speech miraculous is the fact that no other creature in history that we know of has evolved the skill. The origin of language is evolution’s greatest mystery, but how did language begin? Read more

Soon available to watch on-demand

Professor Simon Kirby

University of Edinburgh

View fellow bio

Jan

05

Literature & Language
History
Why do languages die?

Thu, 5 Jan 2023 7:30 pm UTC

Online

It's thought there are more than 7,000 languages spoken across the world. Although this number seems vast, every month one of the world's languages disappears forever. How and why so many languages are dying? Read more

Dr Diane Nelson

University of Leeds

Dr Diane Nelson is a linguist at the University of Leeds. Originally from Boston, she studied at Columbia University and then the University of Edinburgh.

Her deep dive into linguistics started with her PhD research on the grammar of Finnish, a language with 16 cases. Over the years she has studied languages related to Finnish (Saami, Meadow Mari) and unrelated (Turkish, Georgian, Icelandic). There is no such thing as a “simple” language; Diane is passionate about trying to solve the puzzles that each language presents, to understand the complex and systematic ways each language forms words and sentences to express meaning.

More recently Diane has started to see language through the lens of natural history. She is interested in how languages originated, how they diversify into "family trees", and why so many are becoming endangered and extinct.

Her work includes collaboration with other researchers interested in the connections between language diversity and biodiversity through the Centre for Endangered Languages, Cultures and Ecosystems and the Leeds Extinction Studies DTP.

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Jan

12

Literature & Language
History
Are all human languages the same?

Thu, 12 Jan 2023 7:30 pm UTC

Online

If a Martian linguist were to study the languages of the world, what would they conclude about how many we had? What forces shape our language? Read more

Professor Simon Kirby

University of Edinburgh

View fellow bio

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