Biological Evolution and the Diversification of Languages

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The BEDLAN Research Group was established in 2009 and involves researchers from the universities of Helsinki, Tampere and Turku. The central aim of our cross-disciplinary research group is to investigate how the theories and methods of evolutionary biology can help to explain the diversification of languages. Our research combines linguistic and evolutionary biological approaches; its purpose is to contribute both to linguistics and to the study of adaptation and speciation in biology.

The focus of our research is on Uralic languages and variation within the Finnish language. A central research material is the 80-year-old extensive Finnish dialect data of the Institute for the Languages of Finland (KOTUS). The BEDLAN Research Group also cooperates with the Research Institute to collect a database of Uralic languages.


  • BEDLAN 2009-2013 (Kone Foundation)
    • During the BEDLAN project phylogenetic research on the Uralic languages was begun. This involved collecting a large set of basic vocabulary meaning lists and determining their cognate relationships from etymological references. This numerically coded dataset was analysed with tree and network models, and its divergence times were also quantitatively inferred (Honkola ym. 2013, Syrjänen ym. 2013, Lehtinen ym.). In addition to this macroevolutive approach the BEDLAN project also began the exploration of the microevolution of languages by examining Lauri Kettunen's dialect atlas digitized by Kotus and York University. After the corpus was checked for digitizing errors it was analyzed using population genetic methods to determine how to method operated on language data and to find reasons for the linguistic divergence between municipalities and dialect groups.
  • UraLex 2013-2016 (Kone Foundation)
    • The UraLex project endeavours to assist quantitative studies of Uralic by creating a corpus of lexical and typological data from Uralic languages, including lexical data collected during the BEDLAN project.
  • SumuraSyyni 2014-2016 (Kone Foundation)
    • The aim in SumuraSyyni is to clarify the causes of linguistic change. We will expand language evolution studies to include also frameworks from landscape genetics and evolutionary ecology to study divergence processes within dialects, closely related languages and langauge families in light of knowledge from history, archeaology, geography and human genetics.
Helsingin yliopisto     Tampereen yliopisto     Turun yliopisto     Kotimaisten kielten keskus