Biological Evolution and the Diversification of Languages

Research

The central aim of the cross-disciplinary initiative is to investigate how the theories and methods of evolutionary biology can help to explain the diversification of languages. The initiative, which involves researchers from the universities of Helsinki, Tampere and Turku, combines linguistic and evolutionary biological approaches; its purpose is to contribute both to linguistics and to the study of adaptation and speciation in biology. Primary research material include the extensive Finnish dialect data available through the Institute for the Languages of Finland, as well as basic vocabulary lists of the Uralic languages. Other types of historical language data (in particular English, French, Latin and Greek) will also be used by the participants.

In research on cultural evolution, methods of population genetics have so far been used only to a limited extent, while cladistic methods have been on the rise in research on language diversification. It is expected that the recent methodological developments can bring fresh insights into the study of how more general cultural phenomena evolve and diversify. Theoretical issues involved and the historical background will also be surveyed.

The researchers will use methods of evolutionary biology to clarify whether dialects result from arbitrary developments, or if language-external factors create local selection pressures which cause diversification in language. The methods are used in investigating whether the prevailing view of the Finnish and Balto-Finnic dialect geography is correct. In the second phase, geoinformatics will be used to look at the kinds of selection pressures produced by variation in geographical, biological and social environment. An important aim of the project is to compare the validity of different biological and statistical methods. The results will be published in foremost journals of linguistics and biology.

Presentations

Forthcoming

2016

  • Honkola, T. “Kielten erkaantumisen tutkiminen populaatiogenetiikan menetelmillä.” Kielioppia lypsämässä IV, Tartto, Viro.
  • Honkola, T. & Leppänen, J. “Microevolutionary approach to Finnish dialect studies.” BEDLAN2016, Turku.
  • Honkola, T. & Rantanen, T. “Cost-distance analysis of Finnish dialects.” BEDLAN2016, Turku.
  • Honkola, T. “Biologinen näkökulma kielten syntymisen tutkimuksessa.” Turun eläin- ja kasvitieteellisen seuran kokous, Turku.

2015

  • Honkola, T. “Isolation mechanisms and linguistic divergence: microevolutionary perspective.” Oikos Finland meeting, Joensuu.
  • Honkola, T. “Isolation mechanisms and linguistic divergence: microevolutionary perspective.” EHBEA, Helsinki.
  • Honkola, T. “The role of extralinguistic variables in formation of Finnish dialects.” CIFU XII, Oulu.
  • Honkola, T. “Linguistic microevolution: Bringing population biology to linguistics.” Capturing Phylogenetic Algorithms for Linguistics, Leiden, Hollanti.
  • Honkola, T. “Uralic basic vocabulary (UraLex database), phylogenetic analyses and timing the tree.” Interdisciplinary seminar, Tartto, Viro.
  • Syrjänen, K., Leino, A.,, Honkola, T., Lehtinen, J. & Luoma, M. “Lessons learned from compiling a cognate corpus.” New Developments in the Quantitative Study of Languages symposium, Helsinki.
  • Syrjänen, K. & Leino, A., “UraLex – cognate corpus of Uralic languages.” CIFU XII, Oulu.

2014

  • Vesakoski, O., Syrjänen, K., Lehtinen, J., Honkola, T. & Leino, A. “Evoluutiobiologian menetelmät uralilaisten kielten ja suomen murteiden tutkimuksessa.” XLI Kielitieteen päivät, Turku.
  • Honkola, T. “Finnish dialects from a microevolutionary perspective.” Molecular Ecology Symposium 2014, Turku.
  • Lehtinen, J., Rießler, M. & Vesakoski, O. “Modeling the linguistic diversification of Finno-Saamic languages.” SLE 2014, Poznań, Puola.
  • Honkola, T. “The role of extralinguistic variables in dialect formation.” SLE 2014, Poznań, Puola.
  • Honkola, T. “New wave of quantitative dialect studies.” Mapping Methods, Tartto, Viro.
  • Vesakoski, O. & Honkola, T. ”Suomen murteiden ja uralilaisten kielten eriytymisen syitä etsimässä.” Suomalais-Ugrilainen Seura, Helsinki.
  • Honkola, T. “Extralinguistic variables shaping the spatial pattern of linguistic variation.” AURA Symposium, Turku.
  • Vesakoski, O. ”Biologi-kielitieteilijä –vuorovaikutussuhteen kehittyminen.” Melko yleistä kielitiedettä –seminaarisarja, Turku.

2013

  • Honkola, T. & Vesakoski, O. “Micro- and macroevolution of languages: Finnish dialects and Uralic languages revised.” International Conference on Evolutionary Patterns, Lissabon.
  • Vesakoski, O., Syrjänen, K., Lehtinen, J. & Honkola, T. ”Kielten välinen ja kielen sisäinen evoluutio: suomalais-ugrilaiset kielet ja suomen kielen murteet.” Koneen Säätiön Kieliohjelman tutkijatapaaminen, Helsinki.
  • Honkola, T. “Micro- and macroevolution of languages: Finnish dialects and Uralic languages revised.” BEDLAN goes ARGEOPOP, Forssa.
  • Syrjänen, K. “UraLex initiative: towards a database of Uralic cognate and structural data.” BEDLAN goes ARGEOPOP, Forssa.
  • Honkola, T. & Lehtinen, J. “Secondary connections in Uralic languages – quantitative study with trees and networks.” Uralic2013, Tallinn.

2012

  • Honkola, T. ”Kielten välinen ja kielen sisäinen muutos evoluutiobiologisessa viitekehyksessä.” Suomen kielen ja suomalais-ugrilaisen kielentutkimuksen oppiaineen tiedepäivä, Turku.
  • Honkola, T., Vesakoski, O., Korhonen, K., Lehtinen, J., Syrjänen, K., & Wahlberg, N. “Uralic language diversification: shape, timing, and connections with cultural and climatic factors.” SLE2012, Stockholm.
  • Lehtinen, J., Syrjänen, K., Honkola, T., Korhonen, K., Vesakoski, O., & Wahlberg, N. “Uralic lexical evolution in basic and less basic vocabulary: trees and networks compared.” SLE2012, Stockholm.
  • Honkola, T. “Population genetic measures for Finnish dialect data.” BEDLAN 2012, Seili.
  • Honkola, T. “Cultural and climatic changes shape the evolutionary history of the Uralic languages.” EMPSEB 18, Virrat.
  • Vesakoski, O., Honkola, T., Syrjänen, K., Lehtinen, J. & Wahlberg, N. “Micro- and macroevolution of languages: Linguistic divergence revealed by evolutionary biology approach.” 1st Joint Meeting for Evolutionary Biology, Ottawa

2011

  • Honkola, T. “The evolutionary history of the Uralic languages.” SEBDEM 2011, Turku.
  • Honkola, T. “Population genetic analysis of Finnish dialects.” BEDLAN 2011, Seili.
  • Syrjänen, K. “Uralic phylogeny and divergence time estimates.” BEDLAN 2011, Seili.
  • Honkola, T. ”Uralilaisten kielten erkaantumisten ajoittaminen laskennallisilla menetelmillä.” Kotikielen Seura, Helsinki.
  • Lehtinen, J. & Syrjänen, K. “Computational networks and trees in the study of language history.” IFUSCO XXVII, Budapest.
  • Honkola, T. “The evolutionary history of the Uralic languages.” IFUSCO XXVII, Budapest.
  • Syrjänen, K., Honkola, T., Korhonen, K., Lehtinen, J., Vesakoski, O. & Wahlberg, N. “Shedding light on the classification of Uralic languages with computational phylogenetic methods.” ICHLXX, Osaka.

2010

  • Honkola, T. & Syrjänen, K. “On the diversification of Uralic languages – Comparing computational phylogenies with traditional interpretations” Ihmistieteet ja evoluutionäkökulma -seminaari, Mynämäki.
  • Honkola, T. “The evolutionary history of Finno-Ugric languages.” BEDLAN 2010, Seili.
  • Syrjänen, K. “Word lists and Uralic languages: a phylogenetc glance.” BEDLAN2010, Seili.

Posters

  • Honkola, T. “Cultural and climatic changes shape the evolutionary history of the Uralic languages.” ESEB XIII, Tübingen.
  • Vesakoski, O., Honkola, T., Korhonen, K., Lehtinen, J., Suutari, T., Syrjänen, K., & Wahlberg, N. (2010). “The phylogeny of the Uralic languages.” CEE 2010 Symposium: Integrating genetic and cultural evolutionary approaches to language, London.

Publications

Others

  • Honkola, T. & Vesakoski, O. “Ovatko suomalais-ugrilaiset kielet uhanalaisia lajeja?” Paneelikeskustelu tiedemessuilla 7.10.2012, Turku.
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