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Genes: Interactions with language on three levels — Inter-individual variation, historical correlations and genetic biasing

Dediu, D. (2013). Genes: Interactions with language on three levels — Inter-individual variation, historical correlations and genetic biasing. In P.-M. Binder, & K. Smith (Eds.), The language phenomenon: Human communication from milliseconds to millennia (pp. 139-161). Berlin: Springer. doi:10.1007/978-3-642-36086-2_7.
The complex inter-relationships between genetics and linguistics encompass all four scales highlighted by the contributions to this book and, together with cultural transmission, the genetics of language holds the promise to offer a unitary understanding of this fascinating phenomenon. There are inter-individual differences in genetic makeup which contribute to the obvious fact that we are not identical in the way we understand and use language and, by studying them, we will be able to both better treat and enhance ourselves. There are correlations between the genetic configuration of human groups and their languages, reflecting the historical processes shaping them, and there also seem to exist genes which can influence some characteristics of language, biasing it towards or against certain states by altering the way language is transmitted across generations. Besides the joys of pure knowledge, the understanding of these three aspects of genetics relevant to language will potentially trigger advances in medicine, linguistics, psychology or the understanding of our own past and, last but not least, a profound change in the way we regard one of the emblems of being human: our capacity for language.
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The Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics is an institute of the German Max Planck Society. Our mission is to undertake basic research into the psychological,social and biological foundations of language. The goal is to understand how our minds and brains process language, how language interacts with other aspects of mind, and how we can learn languages of quite different types.

The institute is situated on the campus of the Radboud University. We participate in the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, and have particularly close ties to that institute's Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging. We also participate in the Centre for Language Studies. A joint graduate school, the IMPRS in Language Sciences, links the Donders Institute, the CLS and the MPI.

 

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