Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 32, Issue 6, pp 905–933 | Cite as

Did language evolve in multilingual settings?

  • Nicholas EvansEmail author
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. The Evolution of Language


Accounts of language evolution have largely suffered from a monolingual bias, assuming that language evolved in a single isolated community sharing most speech conventions. Rather, evidence from the small-scale societies who form the best simulacra available for ancestral human communities suggests that the combination of small societal scale and out-marriage pushed ancestral human communities to make use of multiple linguistic systems. Evolutionary innovations would have occurred in a number of separate communities, distributing the labor of structural invention between populations, and would then have been pooled gradually through multilingually mediated horizontal transfer to produce the technological package we now regard as a natural ensemble.


Language evolution Multilingualism Hunter-gatherer Gradualist Coevolutionary approaches Distributed innovation 



Funding was provided by Australian Research Council (Grant No. FL130100111), Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language (Grant No. CE140100041) and Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung (Anneliese Maier Forschungspreis).


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.CoEDL (ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language)Australian National UniversityCanberraAustralia

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