Tag Archives: expression

Mark Pagel at University of Oregon HBES conference


Posted by Victor Hanson-Smith

Mark Pagel (MP) delivered a keynote lecture at the 22nd annual Human Behavior and Evolution Society conference, titled “The Rise of the Speaking Machine: Explorations in Language Evolution.”

MP has published several well-known papers on phylogenetic methods, speciation, and protein-protein networks, but his recent work investigates phylogeographic patterns of language expression [Pagel et al. 2007, Pagel 2008, Pagel et al. 2009].  This topic might seem eccentric for an EvoDevo blog, but I think the topic of language evolution is relevant to our interests for two reasons.  First, it reminds us that phylogenetic methods are useful for studying more than sequence data; rather, a phylogeny is useful for studying the evolution of any phenotype, including language.  Second, MP’s results strongly suggest that genetic evolution and linguistic evolution are governed by the same underlying patterns and processes; indeed, human language is simply a highly abstract phenotype.

MP’s hypothesis is that “language provides a digital regulatory mechanism for the newly emerged complex social phenotype of culuture.”  In other words, human language arose to regulate and vary our individual expression of the social phenotype, in a very similar way that the gene expression regulates the phenotype of cells.  If you missed MP’s lecture, you can absorb most of the content by reading the 2007 paper, 2008 paper, and 2009 paper.

Comments are welcome.

Pagel, M. (2009). Human language as a culturally transmitted replicator Nature Reviews Genetics DOI: 10.1038/nrg2560