I'm giving a talk at the LEL Postgraduate Conference at the University of Edinburgh, 19th - 21st May. It's not that big of a deal, since I'm required to give a talk, but it is my first talk. A link to the website (which I'm maintaining) with more details and my abstract follow!
LEL Postgraduate Conference 2010
Bilingualism and Social Networks
Children learn language from exposure to speakers in their social network. This learning influences the input that will be given to the next generation. The way languages change over time is dependent on the learning biases of individuals (e.g. Kirby, Dowman & Griffiths, 2007), but also on the dynamics of the social network of those individuals (Gong & Wang, in press; Lupyan & Dale, 2010; Gal, 1979; Govindasamy, 2003).
Bilingualism is often marginalised in theories of language evolution and existing bilingualism is generally seen as the product of contact between two or more monolingual communities. However, I hypothesise that a bilingual ability is a fundamental aspect of language learning: children can learn two languages as easily as learning one. This suggests that human cognition is geared towards handling complex, not homogenous cultural input. This in turn may suggest the kind of social networks in which human cultural transmission evolved. The prevalence of monolingualism in some modern societies may be explained by changes to social structures afforded by communications technology.
This talk will outline my approach to this hypothesis. This involves the idea of cultural transmission as a trade-off between communicative flexibility and expressivity, the use of a comparative approach to bilingualism and methodologies to generate and test hypotheses.