Dan Dediu

junior fellow
EURIAS cohort 2017/2018
discipline Linguistics
Senior Investigator, Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen (Language and Genetics Department)

Research project

Biological and Environmental Influences on the Evolution of Linguistic Complexity: the Case of Phonetics and Phonology


The project extends my previous work connecting biology with language diversity and evolution using an inter-disciplinary and data-driven quantitative approach. My previous project, funded by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research, investigated the influence of vocal tract anatomy on phonetic and phonological cross-linguistic diversity using a variety of approaches, and will be extended here in two main directions: (i) As biology and environment are intimately inter-twined, what role do environmental factors (such as climate, vegetation cover, subsistence) play in affecting language change and cross-linguistic phonetic and phonological diversities? (ii) Weak inter-individual biases (biological or otherwise), amplified by the repeated use and transmission of language, may result in cross-linguistic diversity, but do they also contribute to linguistic complexity?


Direction (i) will focus on identifying environmental factors that may affect the vocal tract, building on the methodology and candidates generated by my previous project. This will be a hybrid approach that combines both a priori and exploratory analyses, with the main methodological approach being the statistical analysis of large databases possibly supplemented by computational simulations.

Direction (ii) is more exploratory as it is unknown if weak extra-linguistic biases can affect linguistic complexity and its cross-linguistic patterning. Therefore, this will involve brain-storming sessions with scientists from several disciplines using different methodologies, followed by the analysis of the predictions in large databases and through computer modeling.


The project is an extension of my research program so far into the effects of the environment and the influence of weak extra-linguistic biases on linguistic complexity. While being eminently exploratory, there are several a priori predictions generated by previous research that will be tested using data-driven quantitative methods. The outcomes will help clarify those properties of sound systems that are shaped by the environment mediated by the human vocal tract, and will approach the evolution of linguistic complexity from a new perspective that brings culturally amplified weak biases into focus. The long-term impact of the project will be on advancing an already successful inter-disciplinary research program and on expanding the multifaceted understanding of the complex processes shaping human language.







Dan Dediu is Senior Investigator at the Language and Genetics Department of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics at Nijmegen. He holds a Ph.D in Linguistics from the University of Edinburgh. His main research interests are the complex relationships between language(s) and genes covering several scales, from the individual, through the population and to the evolutionary. He uses a variety of methods, including computer simulations, phylogenetic approaches, statistical techniques and experiments to probe the genetic bases of language and speech, and their interaction with cultural processes.






Selected publications


'Anatomical Biasing and Clicks: Evidence from Biomechanical Modeling', with S.R. Moisik, Journal of Language Evolution, vol. 2, no. 1, 2017, pp. 37-51.


'Repetition Suppression in the Left Inferior Frontal Gyrus Predicts Tone Learning Performance', with S.S Asaridou, A. Takashima, P. Hagoort & J.M. McQueen, Cerebral Cortex, vol. 26, no. 6, 2016, pp. 2728-2742.


An Introduction to Genetics for Language Scientists. Current Concepts, Methods, and Findings, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2015.


'Language and Biology: the Multiple Interactions between Genetics and Language’, in N. Enfield, P. Kockelman & J. Sidnell (eds), Cambridge Handbook of Linguistic Anthropology, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2014, pp. 686-707.


'The Time Frame of the Emergence of Modern Language and its Implications', with S.C. Levinson, in D. Dor, C. Knight, & J. Lewis (eds), The Social Origins of Language, Oxford University Press, New York, 2014, pp. 184-195.






senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2018/2019
Collegium de Lyon
discipline Cultural Studies
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2014/2015
Collegium de Lyon
discipline Political Science
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2013/2014
Collegium de Lyon
discipline Environmental Science
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2017/2018
Collegium de Lyon
discipline Environmental Studies