Genetic biasing in language and speech -
About this research programme
Some aspects of language and speech might be under the influence of genetic biases. Such biases, while weak at the individual level, are nevertheless able to affect language change through the repeated cultural transmission of language across generations of genetically biased speakers.This process could help explain some patterns of linguistic diversity (when populations differ in their genetic makeup), while also generating universal tendencies (when the biases are shared across the entire species).
This five-years project, funded by a Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) Vidi Grant, will focus on the investigation of such genetic biases in the area of speech production, looking at the effects of variation in the speech organs on language and speech. The project is highly interdisciplinary with a strong quantitative approach and will explore multiple avenues. We will conduct extensive literature reviews encompassing several fields (such as physical anthropology, dentistry, phonetics, speech pathology, medical genetics and forensic science), we will collect the much needed primary data on variation in the speech organs using cutting-edge technologies and use computer models of the vocal tract to understand their effects on speech, and we will employ and develop new quantitative methods inspired from evolutionary biology to analyze such biasing processes.