How does language adapt to the social and communicative pressures acting on it?
Professor Gareth Roberts is a linguist who studies the role of social and communicative pressures in shaping the emergence and evolution of language.
Some of the fundamental questions that Professor Roberts is interested in include:
- Why do some linguistic variants spread between speakers, while others don’t?
- How do phonological systems become structured?
- How does communication shape linguistic structure?
- How do we get from the biases and constraints in human minds to the typological distribution of languages in the world?
He has explored these questions by conducting experiments in which participants communicate using artificial languages, or collaboratively construct novel communication systems, in controlled conditions. This approach allows him to strip away some of the linguistic experience participants bring with them, while leaving other biases intact, allowing him to observe language change and the emergence of novel linguistic structures in the laboratory.
Professor Roberts founded and runs an interdisciplinary faculty working group devoted to social and cultural evolution; it was recently awarded funding to host an impact seminar at Penn in late Spring 2018. He has published in journals such as Cognition, PLoS One, Language and Communication, and Evolution and Human Behavior, and he is a member of a number of scholarly societies, including the Linguistic Society of America, the Cognitive Science Society, the Philological Society, and the Cultural Evolution Society.