Cultural and linguistic diversity: evolutionary approaches
Recent work has shown that language and other human cultural practices can be considered as evolutionary systems operating on the Darwinian principle of 'descent with modification'. An emerging field of interdisciplinary science builds on phylogenetic and other methods adopted from biology, and adapts them to explain the transmission histories of suites of cultural traits (whether languages, social structures, or artefacts). This theme issue asks what social processes lead to coupled and decoupled transmission of different cultural traits or suites of traits, and how their transmission histories can be estimated retrospectively using quantitative methods. Understanding the factors affecting descent histories is central to explaining how cultural diversity arises and how it is maintained. These questions are of interest and relevance not just to social science and evolutionary theory, but also to planners working on topics such as endangered language maintenance.