Lectures | Films | Exhibit | Past Speakers

The Evolution of Human Languages – An Evolutionary Biologistʼs Perspective

Feb. 13 2015, Friday 7:30pm
Earth and Space Sciences Building, Room 001
Stony Brook University

Professor Mark Pagel, FRS
School of Biological Sciences, Director of the Evolution Laboratory,
University of Reading, UK

If you were to ask 'what makes us human', language would probably come near the top of most people's lists. And yet, human beings speak approximately 7,000 mutually unintelligible languages around the world, giving our species the curious distinction that most of us cannot understand what most other people are saying. I explore the origins of our unique language capability, ask whether any other species could speak, and highlight the remarkable features of language that allow it to evolve and adapt much like genes do, meaning we can trace its evolution back thousands of years into our past.

Mark Pagel is one of the very most distinguished evolutionary biologists in the world and has made ground-breaking contributions to how we think about the evolutionary relationships of organisms and how their forms evolved. He has contributed strongly to our understanding of how to construct evolutionary trees and has applied these accomplishments to understanding the evolution of our written language. By reckoning our language into individual elements, he has used evolutionary principles to study how our language came to be so complex today, producing thousands of languages that are not mutually understandable by all of humanity. His work is very popular and he has given two well-received TED lectures. Professor Pagel is a Professor of Biology at the University of Reading, U.K. and leads the Evolutionary Biology Group. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society and his work is widely cited in the scientific community and in the popular press. He comes from Seattle and earned his Ph.D. at the University of Washington in Mathematics. His recent book "Wired for Culture: Origins of the Human Social Mind," published in 2012 by W. W. Norton, was judged to be one of the best science books by The Guardian. He is editor of the Encyclopedia of Evolution, published in 2002 by Oxford University Press.

This lecture and other Darwin Day activities are a continuation of a regular annual celebration of Darwin and the implications of organic evolution in science and society, held at Stony Brook and many other institutions to celebrate the birthday of Charles Darwin.

Sponsored by the Department of Ecology and Evolution, the Office of the Provost.


Films and Discussion:
Javits Conference Room 2nd floor Frank Melville Library, February 13, 2015

"Great Transformations"9:30AM - 11:00AM
"Why Sex?"11:00AM - 12:30PM
"Evolutionary Arms Race"12:30PM - 2:00PM
"Extinction"2:00PM - 3:30PM


Information Table and Exhibits:
Melville Library Lobby, Feb. 13, 9:00AM - 3:00PM