Salikoko Mufwene

Linguistics and Evolutionary Biology

My research of the past 15 years or so has been on language evolution, patterned on biological evolution and very much inspired by macro-ecology. Having explored an ecological approach to language change, speciation, and vitality in documented human history, I now investigate the phylogenetic emergence of language(s) in mankind, articulating what counts as ecology during this protracted process, starting with the evolving hominine anatomy and mind. Assuming that the latter has co-opted the latter for increasingly more explicit, nuanced, and complex communication within specific population structures, I ponder on how linguistic diversity emerged and has evolved. I test uniformitarianism, examining what in modern human socialization and communicative activities can inform research on language phylogeny. I have worked on colonization (in the sense of relocation to a new habitat and domestication of and adaptation to the latter), globalization, and the impacts of these phenomena on language change and vitality, especially on how their varying effects (geographically and socially) may be correlated with different kinds of inter-group contacts. As a matter of fact, how do we conceptualize agency in phenomena that apply to populations?

Publications include:

  • The Ecology of Language Evolution, University of Chicago Press, 2001.
  • Créoles, écologie sociale, évolution linguistique: cours donnés au Collège de France durant l’automne 2003. Paris: L’Harmattan, 2005.
  • Language Evolution Contact, Competition and Change, Continuum, 2008.
  • Globalization and language vitality in: Perspectives from Africa, co-edited with Cécile B. Vigouroux. London: Continuum Press, 2008.
  • Iberian imperialism and language evolution in Latin America (ed.), to appear. University of Chicago Press.
  • Colonisation, globalisation, vitalité du français, co-edited with Cécile B. Vigouroux. Paris: Odile Jacob, in press, Fall 2013.
  • An ecological account of language evolution! Way to go! Commentary on Luc Steels’ “Modeling the cultural evolution of language.” Physics of Life Reviews 8.367-368. (2011)
  • The emergence of complexity in language: An evolutionary perspective. In Complexity perspectives on language, communication, and society, ed. by Ángels Massip-Bonet & Albert Bastardas-Boada, 197-218. Springer Verlag, 2012.
  • Language as technology: Some questions that evolutionary linguistics should address. In In search of Universal Grammar: From Norse to Zoque, ed. By Terje Lohndal, 327-358. John Benjamins, 2013.
  • The origins and the evolution of language (Ch. 1). In The Oxford handbook of the history of linguistics, ed. by Keith Allan, 13-52. Oxford University Press, March 2013.
  • Language ecology, language evolution, and the actuation question. In Language contact and change: Grammatical structure encounters the fluidity of language, ed. by Tor Afarli & Brit Maelhum. John Benjamins, in press, anticipated for 2013.

For more information on me, please visit my website at: